GATE CITY — Picking on teams its own size early in the season has not been Gate City’s procedure in recent years.
The Blue Devils have seemed rather masochistic with their schedule, participating in the Arby’s Classic and taking on all comers to prepare for district play. But their mission again has been accomplished.
After a paltry 1-6 start this season, the Devils found themselves standing in victory circle Friday night. Gate City (11-7, 7-0) defeated Lebanon 54-44 to win the Clinch Mountain District boys basketball championship.
By virtue of the regular-season title, Gate City will host the district tournament.
This marks the Devils’ 10th consecutive district crown and third in a row inside the Clinch Mountain. The last time a team outdid Gate City in a district race was 2000 when J.I. Burton ruled the Lonesome Pine.
“To accomplish a district championship it takes hard work from a lot of good kids,’’ Gate City coach Scotty Vermillion said. “The district is trying out this concept of allowing the champion to host the tournament. To the victor goes the spoils sometimes, and it seems right that if you win you should receive an opportunity to play at home.’’
Junior wing Jordan Potts, who was the Arby’s Classic 3-point champion as a freshman, poured in 20 points to lead Gate City. He sank three 3-pointers and was perfect in nine trips to the foul line. Team leader Trevor Smith added 11 points.
Paul Arnold, whose four-point total was considerably below his team-high average of 16, concentrated his efforts on defense despite being in early foul trouble.
“Paul did an excellent job of keeping Jerome Cobb away from the basket,’’ Vermillion said. “Our best play tonight was on the defensive end.
“Trevor put the ball in the hole at critical times and Luke Ervin came in and hit a couple of big shots,” he added. “Tyler Bird was effective at preventing Lebanon’s guards from penetrating. Jordan scored 20 and when he gets that many, we’re hard to beat.’’
The Pioneers (12-4, 4-3) did not have a single player score in double figures.
Thad Lambert, Lebanon’s coach, said the goals were too elusive for his team.
“We just had a hard time shooting the ball. We got some good looks but couldn’t get our inside shots to fall,” Lambert said. “Defensively, we lost Potts a few times and he got hot-handed in the second half. Hopefully, we’ll get another crack at Gate City in a couple of weeks.’’
Potts said Lebanon’s defenders targeted Arnold and Smith and it enabled him to spring open. “They double-teamed Paul and Trevor and it gave me some space. We played good defense. Things are coming together.’’
Smith, who missed a number of games because of an injury, was thrilled to be able to contribute in a big way.
“We knew we’d have to push the ball hard,’’ he said. “We get after each other in practice. We’ve worked hard for this. We really don’t worry about our overall record. We know that by playing strong teams outside the district we’ve already seen the best.’’
Austin Arwood collected six rebounds to lead Gate City. Arnold and Smith each got five.
The Devils have three games remaining before the district tournament — at John Battle on Tuesday before hosting Burton on Wednesday and Sullivan South next Saturday.
Gate City’s girls (6-11, 4-3) got back on track after losing to Virginia High the previous night. They defeated Lebanon 37-23.
Autumn Richards tossed in 13 points to lead the winners’ balanced attack.
“I was a little worried because of the way we had played Thursday,’’ Gate City coach Kelly Houseright said. “Our boxing out still isn’t what it should be but we played well enough to win.
“We got ahead and went to a zone defense, allowing some girls in foul trouble to rest.’’
The Lady Devils didn’t score in the first five minutes of the second half.
“We’re notorious for coming out in the third quarter and only getting three or four points,’’ Houseright said. “We went brain-dead and didn’t attack the basket.’’
It was homecoming and only proper that both Gate City teams won. Lindsey Burke was crowned queen.
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