GATE CITY — The Richlands boys’ basketball team got on a bus Wednesday, headed south, got off the bus and walked straight into something very much like a tornado.
And darned if it wasn’t blue.
Gate City had four scorers in double figures with two more only a bucket away and the Blue Devils ran off with a 77-54 win over the visiting Blue Tornado in the VHSL 2A West quarterfinals.
“By the time we settled down and played a little ball it was a 30-point game,” said Richlands coach Jody Fuller. “You come down here and get behind by 30 ... I tell you man, it’s over.”
Richlands (9-15) had seen quality pressure defense from Virginia High this season. Even Lebanon came out of its zone to get in the Blues’ grill, Fuller said. But Gate City’s relentless defensive game plan, combined with its highly conditioned athletes is a different animal.
“All those kids are cut up. They’re in the weightroom. They’re quick. They’re strong. When they get into you, they can lock you down,” said the Richlands coach, who described his players as “shell-shocked” in the first half.
The Tornado hit the other end of the floor preoccupied with keeping track of Dylan Jenkins. The Blue Devils senior point guard scored 27 points in Gate City’s last outing, a 72-64 Conference 40 championship win over Virginia High.
Jenkins finished with 12 points, which might’ve at least been a moral victory for the Tornado had the Blue Devils not gotten so many points elsewhere.
Nick Qualls hit three 3-pointers on his way to 11 points for Gate City (19-5). He contributed two of those perimeter bombs to an explosive 27-point second quarter that put the Blue Devils up 42-16 at the half.
Caleb Herron finished with 12 points for Gate City. He got a quick steal an easy backcourt layup after a Qualls 3 to prime the pump at the beginning of the whirlwind second period. Herron stroked a brace of rare treys in the third period.
While most visible in a disruptive, defensive ball-pressuring role for Gate City, the junior guard frequently contributes one or two slash-and-trash buckets on offense.
The two spot-shot 3s showed he can step outside the box — and outside the arc.
“I don’t know. I guess I was just feeling it. I felt like I should shoot it,” said Herron, who handed out four assists and collected two steals. “Usually I just play some hard ‘D’ and pick up all the extra possessions I can. Just the dirty work.”
Hunter Collier added 10 points for the Blue Devils. John Reed Barnes and Michael Collier added eight apiece. Barnes also pulled down seven boards. Cody Mays blocked two shots.
“For us to win up the road, we can’t possibly go and not be multidimensional. I thought tonight we attacked the basket from a lot of places. We had several guys hit some perimeter shots. Got offensive rebounds from some guys,” said Gate City coach Scott Vermillion, whose team advances to face Martinsville in Friday’s 8 p.m. semifinal game at Floyd County.
“Dylan might’ve scored once or twice in that (second-quarter stretch) but we had Qualls, Mays, Barnes and Herron all hitting some shots.”
Ben Brown scored 13 points to pace Richlands. Luke Phillips added 11 points and Cody Fuller contributed nine.
In the fourth quarter, one-armed forward Anthony Austin came off the bench and lifted the Blues’ sagging spirits by hitting a mid-range jumper that brought the entire gym to its feet.
“I’m proud of them. We were one of the final 16 teams still playing. Not many people gave us a chance to be doing that coming out of the conference,” said Fuller. “I’d really liked to have had a better showing tonight. But I’m really proud of those kids.”