The road to Richmond is paved in Gate City Blue.
For the third year in a row the Lady Blue Devils are headed to the VHSL Group A girls Final Four while the Gate City boys are traveling to Virginia's state capitol for the second time in three years.
It's been a great ride for the Lady Devils.
Two years ago, Gate City lost a heartbreaker to Radford in the final seconds of the championship game. Then last season, the Lady Devils shocked the Siegel Center crowds at Virginia Commonwealth by knocking off No. 1 Floyd County and No. 2 Clarke County, both undefeated at the time, to claim a precious state championship crown.
As fate would have it, Gate City has a matchup tonight at 6 p.m. in the semifinals with Clarke County, the same team the Lady Devils defeated for the title last year. And potentially, there is another meeting with top-ranked Floyd County in the finals.
Although three of the girls' Final Four teams return, one never knows for sure what to expect. Despite losing only one starter from last year's championship team, the Lady Blue Devils are different, as will be the Lady Eagles.
Chemistry is the name of the game with basketball teams and the Lady Devils seem to have an abundance of that heading to Richmond. Where that shows up is on the defensive side of the ball.
Gate City has left its mark on the VHSL state tournament the past two years with a relentless, smothering defensive effort. Two years ago, the Lady Blue Devils held top-ranked Radford well below its season average and made the outcome of that contest a one-possession game.
The Lady Devils' final possession resulted in the possible winning shot rolling agonizingly across the rim and off.
Last year, Gate City put on a defensive clinic. Once the Lady Blue Devils got their collective nose out in front of Floyd County, they never let the Lady Buffaloes have any hope of rallying in the semifinals.
And in a classic confrontation in the title contest, Gate City refused to be intimidated by Clarke County's full-court pressure.
In fact, the Lady Devils turned the tables on the Lady Eagles and used a defensive effort that took Clarke County completely out of its game. A switch to a match-up zone in the second half sealed the deal for Gate City.
It was an amazing run in last year's VHSL tournament. No one had ever seen anything like it.
Everyone anticipated a championship game between two undefeated teams, Clarke County and Floyd County. What they got was Gate City - a team that refused to lose.
No one knows for sure what will happen this weekend in the Group A girls Final Four but one thing is certain. The Gate City Lady Blue Devils will enter the fray as the defending state champs.
Defensive games can be ugly, but winning is always beautiful. The Lady Devils know if they want to be the belles of the ball again there's a price to be paid.
That price is defense.