GATE CITY — They occupy six rows of courtside bleachers and wildly celebrate inside shots, 3-point goals, free throws, rebounds, steals, assists, blocked shots and everything else achieved by players wearing blue and white.
This vocal group of Gate City students has become basketball coach Scott Vermillion’s “sixth man.’’
Jamie Hackney gave them something to cheer about Friday night, scoring 23 points in a 73-49 Clinch Mountain District win over Lee.
The veteran 6-foot-2 forward got 16 points in the second half as Gate City (10-5, 3-0) broke open a close game. He hit 11 in the final quarter.
“Hack! Hack! Hack!’’ was their enthusiastic chant after each of his baskets. He finished with seven fielders, including three treys. His first 3-point goal triggered a 13-0 run at the start of the second half, essentially deciding the outcome.
Hackney said he always hears the students’ battle cry.
“They started doing that last year. It puts chills on your skin and gives you a lot of motivation to keep going,” he said. “This shows a lot of fan support.’’
The Blue Devils’ district record, dating back to the Lonesome Pine days, is 57-2 in a five-year span.
Vermillion has a good feeling about his team in general and Hackney’s leadership in particular.
“He’s starting to get in the flow,’’ Vermillion said. “Jamie has a tendency to hunt too long for the right shot. But he does a lot of things for us.’’
Tihlee Anderson was a step behind Hackney with 16 points. Cody Salyer had 13 points, with four treys.
“Once Cody dials in and hits a couple of those outside shots,’’ Vermillion said, “he’s pretty consistent.’’
Vermillion has seen Gate City’s transistion defense improve and team chemistry gradually develop.
It was all Gate City could do in the early stages to sustain the scoring of guards Gary Stafford and Scotty Wolliver, who combined for 43 points for Lee (7-7, 1-3).
Stafford, who led his team with 25, hit four fielders from a distance.
“He didn’t score 1,000 career points by accident,’’ Vermillion said. “Stafford can shoot. Every time we backed up one step, he’d drain a field goal.’’
Steve Collier, Lee’s coach, attests to the accuracy of Stafford and Wolliver.
“We live and die by our guards,’’ he said. “The problem is, when you go against a good team, you must have more players scoring. We have to be efficient with our personnel. We’ve got two scorers — we need more.’’
The Lady Generals (11-4, 3-1) defeated the Lady Devils 45-25. Jalan McPherson led with 16 points.
“We’ve had balanced scoring all season,’’ Lee coach Stephanie Ward said. “It’s been a rotation of three — McPherson, Chelsea Cluesman and Rachel Wynn — leading us. Jalan did a good job penetrating tonight.
“This was a big win. Gate City’s record (2-14, 1-2) doesn’t reflect its talent. That team is fundamentally as good as anybody I’ve looked at. We just made a few more shots.’’