GATE CITY — Looking beyond the regular season, Gate City basketball coach Scott Vermillion is subtly laying the foundation for a return trip to the VHSL Group A state tournament.
He’s already sent the Blue Devils out to face powerful Pulaski, Va. Gate City will be taking on Pine Castle of Orlando, Fla., next Wednesday in the 25th annual Arby’s Classic at Bristol.
The Gate City Holiday Classic is a mere warm-up for bigger things to come. The Devils had little trouble discarding J.J. Kelly 79-48 in the opening round Friday night.
They’ll play Honaker, a 51-47 winner over Twin Springs, at 8 o’clock tonight in the round-robin affair.
Nine Gate City players scored against Kelly. Tihlee Anderson led the way with 20 points, followed by Jamie Hackney (14), Cody Salyer (13) and Steven Williams (10).
The Big Blue’s relentless defensive pressure on the ball and wholesale substitutions hammered Kelly into submission early on. Gate City bolted to a 7-0 lead and never looked back.
Playing at a faster offensive pace than a year ago, Gate City made use of every dribble and every pass.
The Devils (3-1) felt free to fire away with 6-foot-9 Josh Johnson and 6-6 Matt Bays taking care of the boards.
“We were a little out of sync offensively,’’ Vermillion said. “Defensively, we jumped around and did some good things. We create a lot of our offense with defense.
“We’ve turned the ball over carelessly the last couple of games. We’d like to be a bit sharper.’’
At a huge disadvantage in depth, Kelly (2-4) refused to roll over and play dead. The Indians’ Matthew Dotson hit 16 points and Devin Miller got 11.
There were 10 goals made from 3-point range — four by Salyer and three by Dotson.
As the Kelly players’ legs became rubbery from being chased all over the floor, Gate City stretched the score out of reach in the late going. The Devils averaged three points a minute in the final half.
The classic is a melting pot of four Southwest Virginia districts, with a team from each the Clinch Mountain, Cumberland, Lonesome Pine and Black Diamond participating.
Twin Springs (2-2) let victory slip away against Honaker (3-3).
The Titans led 40-30 entering the last quarter but allowed the Tigers to hang around too long.
Honaker gradually chipped away at the deficit. Finally, with 59 seconds remaining, Brett Carter slipped around the Titans’ defense for a layup to give his team a 46-45 lead.
After an exchange of baskets, Matt Shortridge hit three free throws to ice the win.
Scoring leaders for the Tigers were Justin Hale with 15, Logan Ball with 11 and Carter with 10.
Tops for Twin Springs were Devon Matthews (16) and Kris Jordan (15).
“We didn’t handle pressure very well,’’ Twin Springs coach John McCrary said. “Honaker took us out of our offensive sets. We got tired. (The Tigers) played well — they just kept coming. We weren’t patient and that’s our enemy. But if we stay healthy, we could be pretty good late in the season.’’
Honaker coach Waylon Hart said: “I’d rather win ugly than lose pretty. We did a poor job of rebounding, had breakdowns on defense and took some questionable shots.’’
The teams will switch around for tonight’s action. After two jayvee contests, Twin Springs will meet Kelly at 6 p.m., before the Gate City/Honaker feature game.