CASTLEWOOD — Peaking at the right time.
In the annals of coaching history, that phrase certainly has enjoyed its popularity — especially in a playoff setting.
Following a 60-35 win over third-seeded Lebanon on Friday evening, Virginia High coach Wayne Rasnick became the latest coach to embrace the expression.
The Bearcats — the seventh seed in the Region D, Division 2 tournament — entered Friday’s game with a 13-13 record.
“We don’t lose games by design through the regular season,” Rasnick admitted. “We’ve certainly lost games this year that we probably should have won, but doggone it, we’ve been in nearly every game we played.”
In Friday’s semifinal matinee, top-seeded Gate City punched its ticket to the championship round with a 67-44 victory over Union.
Led by seniors Luke Ervin and Andy Arnold, the Blue Devils (21-5) fired the game’s first shots and grabbed a 10-2 lead with 2:15 remaining in the first quarter.
Undeterred by its slow start, Union (18-8) cut the Blue Devils’ lead to four at the end of the first frame.
“Early on, we took some shots that were a little off balance,” said Gate City coach Scott Vermillion.
“Sometimes it can take a few minutes to see how the game is going to be called. In this game, the refs let the kids play physical basketball.”
Union and Gate City spent most of the second quarter jockeying for the lead. The Bears grabbed their first lead of the contest near the midway point of the quarter. A Raashaun Nokes’ layup at the 3:54 mark put Union ahead at 17-16.
“Union is a really good team and they really battled us hard tonight. In the second quarter of the game, they did some things on both sides of the court to keep the game competitive,” Ervin said.
Leading by six at the intermission, the Blue Devils quickly took control. Gate City went on a 15-6 run in the third quarter to take a 43-28 lead with 2:20 remaining.
Leading by 15, Gate City forward Cody Mays suffered a knee injury after going to the basket on a failed layup.
“Right now, we’re not sure about how severe the injury is. We’re going to have to get him to the doctor next week to find out. Just looking at it initially, he’s probably done for the season,” Vermillion said.
Ervin led the Blue Devils with 23 points. He went 8-for-10 from the free throw line.
Union forward Colby Addington led the Bears in scoring with 16 points.
Facing each other for the fourth time this season, the Bearcats and the Blue Devils will vie for the Region D, Division 2 title tonight at 8 o’clock at Virginia High.
“It’s obviously great to have two Clinch Mountain teams in the Region D finals. I know (Vermillion) will have his team prepared. Gate City is an outstanding team and we’re just looking forward to a great game with the Blue Devils,” Rasnick said.
Throughout their contest with Lebanon (17-9), the Bearcats used team speed and a renewed focus on rebounds to control the tempo.
Virginia High guard Touré Fudge dominated the first quarter. The underclassman provided the team’s entire scoring output of 12 points in the game’s first eight minutes.
Fudge led the Bearcats in scoring with 15 points. He also earned a double-double with 12 rebounds.
“Fudge hit some big shots for us tonight,” Rasnick said. “He played within his game and within the style that we teach at Virginia High. I also thought he did an amazing job defensively tonight.”
In the final quarter, the Pioneers were held scoreless for nearly six minutes. The Bearcats also prevented any Lebanon player for scoring in double digits.
The Pioneers were led by Jake Smith and Gus Chafin, each with seven points.