Gate City boys basketball coach Scotty Vermillion earned his first Region D title as Scott County's Blue Devils upended top-ranked Castlewood 62-57 in Saturday's regional championship game.
"I'm no better a coach than I was yesterday. I'm just tickled that our boys played hard," said Vermillion, who took his team to the Group A Final Four two seasons ago.
Vermillion is in his fourth season at Gate City (22-5). The last time Gate City won a regional boys basketball title was as Region IV champs in 1999-98.
"We knew what we had to do, and we did it," said Gate City forward Jamie Hackney, who led all scorers with 24 points.
Castlewood (23-2) went into the postseason ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press Group A poll. It went into Saturday's finals minus injured point guard Patrick Fisher, who played for only 42 seconds in Friday's semifinals.
Castlewood backup point guard Ryan Meade returned to action after missing Friday's semis with the flu. But it was obvious that a healthy Fisher would've been huge help against Gate City's impressive pressure and depth.
"I think they had good ball pressure on us, and that hurt us. (Fisher) is pretty good at handling it, and that's a big difference," Castlewood coach Aaron Williams reluctantly admitted.
"They kind of wore us down a bit."
Tihlee Anderson had 15 points, five assists and three steals for Gate City. Matthew Bays, a 6-foot-5 junior post player, came up with 12 points and eight rebounds, and made two profound second-half shot blocks.
Castlewood 6-5 post Brad McReynolds got 10 rebounds, but Bays helped hold his scoring to 10 points.
"Bays stepped up. We've been waiting for him all year, and here he is," Vermillion said.
Chris Smith hit three of Castlewood's eight total 3-pointers on his way to 15 points. Ethan Collins turned some of the heat back Gate City's way with four first-half treys. He finished with 15 points.
"The 3 ball definitely helps them," Hackney observed. "It's what gets them back into the ballgame. They'll come back in a hurry on you."
After four first-quarter lead changes, Castlewood headed into the second quarter with an 11-8 lead. A three-point play by Hackney and a stickback by Bays later, the Blue Devils were back up 13-11 headed toward two more lead swaps.
Collins nailed another 3-pointer at 5:50 to ignite a 10-0 Castlewood run during which he collected a pair of assists, putting the Russell County team up 25-15 with another 3-pointer at 3:15 left in the half.
Castlewood tried to slow it down to shorten the game while Gate City turned up the defensive heat. Castlewood went scoreless for the remainder of the half as Gate City chipped away, finally going ahead 26-25 on Hackney's lane driver with one second left on the clock.
Castlewood retook the lead 32-31 on Travis Carter's backdoor layup at 5:40 in the third quarter and was up by nine, 40-31, on Carter's putback with 2:56 left in the quarter. But a Cody Salyer 3 let some of the air out of that lead. In the final minute of the third, two consecutive treys from Hackney closed it to 45-44.
The score locked up four times in the fourth quarter before Gate City finally went out front for good, 56-53, on Anderson's three-point play. Castlewood remained a viable threat, however, until Anderson sank both his free throws for the final margin with 4.5 seconds showing.
"I took my time, not thinking about nothing. I blocked out the crowd and just hit them," Anderson said.
Both teams will play in next week's Group A quarterfinals, which will be played either Friday or Saturday. Castlewood will travel to face James River while Gate City will stay closer to home to play George Wythe.