Friday night, the Blue Devils earned their eighth state semifinal berth in 17 years under Vermillion, leading most of the night before securing a 59-49 decision over Glenvar in VHSL Class 2 quarterfinal play at Virginia High’s Bearcat Den.
Up next for Gate City (23-5) are the familiar faces of the defending state champion Radford Bobcats (23-3).
The schools know each other well, having also met in the playoffs in 2018 and 2019 as well. Gate City won 65-48 two years ago and Radford took a 79-65 victory last season. Both times, each went on to convincingly win the state championship.
“But each year it’s a different group of kids, so it’s different every year and special every year,” Vermillion said. “I’m really happy for this group, to lose what we’ve lost (from those 2018 and 2019 teams) and to come back this season and do what they’ve done.
“You know, we were picked second in our league, and our guys think about that stuff. And so we’ve won a lot of big games. To be region champs and headed to the Final Four again to play Radford ... I’m just so happy for this group.”
The game was tied at 12 when Gate City gained the upper hand in the second period, starting with a Bradley Dean 3-point jumper from the corner. Eli Starnes then recovered a loose ball defensively and sped 60 feet for a transition bucket before a Jon Compton 3-pointer made it a 20-12 count with 3:31 left in the half.
The upstart Highlanders (13-14), who had won their previous five games to come out of nowhere and reach state, never got closer than three thereafter, trailing by as much as 40-25 midway through the third quarter.
Glenvar was down just 47-43 with 3:56 left to play, but a three-point play by Jon Sallee helped Gate City restore order with a seven-point edge.
“Brad’s been under the weather and we’re lucky he got to play to be honest,” Vermillion said. “The other guys stepping up — Andrew (Hensley) hit shots, Jon Compton hit shots, Jon Sallee making a huge, huge, huge three-point play.
“Each night it is someone different. It’s just a pleasure to coach this team.
“Really I thought tonight Jon Compton and Jon Sallee were the difference in the game,” he said.
Compton was big on the perimeter where he made 4 of 10 shots.
Dean and Compton both scored 16 points for the Blue Devils, but help was everywhere for the two battle- tested seniors.
Starnes, Sallee, Hensley and Luke Reed combined for 24 points for Gate City.
“It’s just different this time of year, when it’s win or go home,” said Sallee, a senior who’s been a key part of the past three Blue Devils teams. “When it could be your last game forever, it hits home with you to get your job done.
“Coach talks about roles, and I try to be a star in my role, you might say.”
Gate City shot 42% from the floor and committed just eight turnovers, including only one in the first half, which ended with the Blue Devils up 26-21.
Glenvar, which got 16 points each from Stephen Barber and Tyler Johnson, plus 14 from Avery Alexander, shot 43% and committed 13 turnovers.
The Highlanders were ragged in the first half with 10 turnovers.