Gate City's girls came up short in their bid for another state title.
RICHMOND - Two years ago, Gate City coach Scotty Vermillion made his first career appearance in the VHSL Group A Final Four.
Tomorrow, he makes his Final Two debut.
Gate City forward Jamie Hackney crossed the 1,000-point career mark as he scored 16, including the game-winner, in a 44-43 state semifinal win over Altavista at Virginia Commonwealth University's Siegel Center Thursday night.
"This is the biggest game of my career. There's not a better game to get 1,000," said Hackney, whose jumper off the corner of the foul line gave the Blue Devils the final margin with 25 seconds showing on the clock.
"I didn't know I had to hit it to go up, but I'm glad I did."
Gate City (24-5) advances to Saturday's 1 p.m. championship, where it will face defending state champion Clarke County. The Eagles (25-4) defeated James River 86-52 in Thursday's earlier semifinal.
"I can't say enough about Altavista. They visit the state tournament about every year. Coach (Mike) Cartolaro is one of the best coaches I've had the privilege to coach against. His teams play well," said Vermillion.
Gate City's last state title game appearance was under Greg Ervin in 1999. The Blue Devils lost to a Salem squad coached by Charlie Morgan in the Group AA state finals played at the Norfolk Scope.
Tihlee Anderson led Gate City with 19 points, also doing an outstanding job protecting the ball from Altavista's blistering pressure defense. Matthew Bays led Gate City with seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Vermillion was no less pleased with the performance of role players like Tyler Parks and Steven Williams.
"They dug deep in a lot of areas," Vermillion said. "Some of the kids who don't get credit busted their tails for us defensively and rebounding. That's the difference in the game. I thought they were tired and we had an advantage depth-wise."
Devon McRae scored 14 points for the Colonels (24-4) while Roger Woodruff added 10 for a Colonels crew that valued defensive pressure at least as highly as Gate City.
"You look at them and you look at us. There were two similar teams out there tonight," said Cartolaro, who coached the Colonels to the Group A state crown in 2004. "It was a game played really hard defensively. They played extremely hard. They never quit. And we knew that."
After Jawaad Douglas' opening 3-pointer, Altavista had nine consecutive scoreless possessions, including five turnovers and two big Matthew Bays shot blocks. But the Colonels made good use of the final minute of the first quarter, going up 10-6 on Mike Poindexter's bank shot from the paint, a lane slasher from Gavin Monroe and a Poindexter trifecta.
In the final 30 seconds of second period, Gate City got a pair of Anderson free throws and a Jamie Hackney baseline jumper to make it 20-15 just one second before the intermission buzzer.
Anderson came alive in the third quarter and Hackney started hitting his jumpers. The two Blue Devil scoring leaders shared equally in the 8-0 opening run that had Gate City leading 23-20 on Hackney's jumper in the key with 4:58 left in the frame.
"We just went out and took care of the ball the way we didn't in the first half. We had to pick it up in the second half ... control the ball with less turnovers," Anderson said.
The Colonels opened the final stanza with a pair of consecutive 3-pointers from Poindexter and McRae. A three-point play from Hackney helped stem that surge, with Gate City trailing 38-36 on Hackney's trey at 3:26 left to play. The Blue Devils tied it at 38 on a transition jumper by Anderson, then Altavista took its last lead, 41-38, on McRae's second and final 3 of the night.
After Hackney's go-ahead jumper, Gate City got a key steal by Cody Salyer, and allowed only one Colonel shot attempt in the final 20 seconds.
"We just couldn't get them on D. We just got a taste of our own medicine," McRae said.