ROELAND PARK — The Bishop Miege Stags are widely viewed as an unjustly difficult playoff opponent that strikes fear into the hearts of SEK schools and their fan bases.
Unable to flip that script, the No. 12 seed Labette County Grizzlies were downed by the fourth-seeded Stags in Friday night's KSHSAA Class 4A East Sub-State championship game, 71-38.
Labette County (10-12) was able to keep it close in the opening minutes, as Matthew Boyle's triple trimmed the deficit to 8-7.
The Stags' juggernaut prowess quickly emerged — as the reigning state champions closed out the opening frame on a 13-2 run. After limited success defending Aidan Wing during the first eight minutes of play, the 6-foot-5 forward became untethered in the second quarter, dropping in 13 of his 19 first half points.
The Stags also tightened the defensive screws in the second quarter and held an insurmountable 44-10 halftime advantage.
After scoring just one point in the second quarter, the Grizzlies found their offensive footing in the third. Sparked by a pair of Griffin Eaton three-balls, a total of five Grizzlies checked into the scoring column.
While the Grizzlies outscored the Stags 20-14 in the third, they were unable to gain further ground in the fourth as their season came to an end with the turbo clock activated for much of the second half.
"I'm just really proud of this group and the effort they've put forth. They've grinded through some tough spots throughout the year," said Labette County head coach Bradley Argabright.
Regardless of the final outcome, Argabright was thrilled that his squad put itself in a position to advance to the Class 4A State Tournament.
"To give ourselves a chance to go to state is a big deal," he said. "I wish it would have gone the other way — but this loss was not due to a lack of effort."
While Argabright said that the game-plan was centered on slowing Wing, Mac Armstrong and Jason Rodriquez, the Grizzlies’ transition defense was largely ineffective.
"(Miege) gets up and down the court really fast and hits shots," he said. "They've won five of the past seven state championships, so we knew we were going to be facing a tough team."
Trailing 8-7, Argabright said that his squad was unable to strike while the iron was hot.
"We weren't able to hit open looks and turned the ball over too many times during that early stretch," he said. "There are some things I wish we could take back, so that we could have slowed those runs and kept ourselves in the game."
Argabright was pleased with the way in which his squad shared the offensive wealth in the third.
"It was a team effort tonight and everyone chipped in," he said. "But we didn't make enough plays."
Predominantly utilizing a man-to-man defense, the Grizzlies switched to zone on a few occasions.
"We couldn't keep them in front of us there for a little bit," Argabright said. "We tried to do what we do best, but they just made more plays than us tonight."
Reflecting on the season as a whole, Argabright said that the team exceeded his expectations.
"I thought our player development from the start of the year to the end of the year was tremendous. That's freshman all the way up to our seniors," he said. "We demand a lot out of our players, and I thought they did a really nice job of being coachable this year."
The departing senior group is composed of Boyle, Eaton, Trey Vinson, and transfer Joseph Paige. Argabright is also in his fourth season as head coach.
"It's a tough group of kids that I'm going to miss dearly," Argabright said. "Our seniors next year are going to have to carry that tradition on and make sure that we're doing what we need to do in practice."
Led by forward Hudson Baker, the Grizzlies are likely to return a number of key players for the 2023-24 campaign. Among those logging heavy minutes this season were a pair of freshmen.
"We're going to bring back some size and guys that have been through the fire," he said. “I'm ready to get started already."
Bishop Miege 71, Labette County 38
Labette County: 9 1 20 8 — 38
Bishop Miege: 21 23 14 13 — 71
Labette County: Griffon Eaton 11, Hudson Baker 9, Matthew Boyle 8, Joseph Paige 6, Trey Vinson 5
Bishop Miege: Aidan Wing 21, Mac Armstrong 17, Jason Rodriquez 13, Daegan Jensen 12, Carmell Bailey 4, Nate Hayward 2, Blayne Marshall 2
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