Senior-laden lineup has Lower Brule boys in Class B semifinals

Mar. 16—ABERDEEN, S.D. — Lower Brule's roster features four seniors, and you'd be hard pressed to miss them.

The quartet of Brian LaRoche Jr., Gavin Thigh, Ellwyn Langdeau and Tayshawn Battese makes up four-fifths of the starting lineup.

And they play. A lot.

Coach Brian LaRoche Sr.'s starting lineup is almost exclusively on the floor for the Sioux, and in Lower Brule's 67-55 win over Castlewood in the first round of the Class B state tournament, three starters played over 31 minutes, with LaRoche Jr. sitting four 4 1/2 minutes in the first half due to injury before returning to start the third quarter and Langdeau fouling out in the fourth.

Otherwise, the four seniors, along with fellow starter, sophomore Lane Gray, were on the floor virtually the entire game.

"It's just how we've always played," LaRoche Sr. said after the win. "They know what's up. They know the mismatches, they read them, they talk. That's how this thing is designed."

There's a certain amount of trust that allows LaRoche Sr. to leave his starters out there for so long. Part of that stems from how long they've been playing together, which dates back to their days in elementary school.

Another part of it stems from family, with LaRoche Sr. coaching both his son, LaRoche Jr. and his nephew, Thigh.

The level of faith he has in his players helped LaRoche Sr. leave Langdeau and Battese on the floor with four fouls Thursday, with confidence his seniors would be able to adapt and play smart defense.

"They have to play through that," LaRoche Sr. said. "They got to control their body and play smarter defense."

The trust extends to the players, too. Having played together for so long, Thigh said they know where each other will be on the court and understand defensive rotations.

But it takes more than just chemistry to be on the floor for 32 minutes. At practice, Thigh said there's a lot of running, whether it be during drills or after missed free throws.

That level of conditioning helping prepare the Sioux for four quarters of action, where they're usually getting out on fast-breaks and pushing the ball up the court.

"We run the ball," LaRoche Sr. said.

But being out on the floor for so long gives each player a chance to heat up, and that's exactly what Thigh did Thursday, though it didn't take him much time to get going. The senior poured in a game-high 34 points, with 20 coming in a first half where he went 6-for-6 from the floor, 3-for-3 from 3-point range and 5-for-5 from the free-throw line.

"He's our leader," LaRoche Sr. said of Thigh. "In the state tournament, he showed out. ... He's always been our leader."

He said he hasn't been that hot since early in the season, but he knew after knocking down a pair of early 3-pointers that he was locked in. And even though he had the hot hand Thursday, he said anybody on his team is capable of doing that.

"It was pretty cool getting hot like that in front of a big crowd," Thigh said. "(Thursday) was just my day, I guess. But (Friday) it might be (LaRoche Jr.'s) or Tayshawn (Battese's), you never know."

The Class B tournament in Aberdeen isn't a new environment for the Sioux, who are making their third trip in a row. And to get themselves ready for it throughout the entire season, they took on some of the toughest competition in the state and compiled the best opponent's winning percentage in Class B at .593.

It's something LaRoche Sr. said he wanted this season, with a chance for his team to better itself every game, and to do that, Lower Brule played in a handful of classics for an opportunity to see tougher competition in bigger environments.

"Half our games are against (Class) A schools. People don't give us credit for that. We even asked for (Class) AA schools and they kind of turned us down," LaRoche Sr. said. "If we're a walk-over team, then no. But being that level at the top, you want the best."

Even playing tougher competition, though, the Sioux worry solely about themselves. LaRoche Sr. said he doesn't watch film on other teams and instead focuses on "how we plan to get things done."

The Sioux are still in search of their first state title, and with a senior-heavy rotation and the No. 1 seed in Class B, this season is a prime opportunity. LaRoche Sr., who's been coaching the seniors the whole way, said it would mean "everything" to come home from Aberdeen after Saturday as the champion of Class B, as he recalled days practicing wherever they could, whether it be a gym or the front yard.

And sitting just two wins away from the Class B crown, Thigh understands how the type of squad the Sioux have.

"I think we probably won't see this type of team again," Thigh said. "I don't know how long it'll be, but this team is pretty special."