If you’re one of eight Region D basketball teams appearing in this weekend’s VHSL Group A state basketball quarterfinals, the best place to be is here; the best time to be is now.
Region D boys champion Gate City (23-5) faces Graham (17-9) in Saturday’s 7 p.m. quarterfinal, one of four Region D champs to hold court at the Prior Center on the Virginia-Wise campus.
This weekend’s winners will advance to next week’s VHSL Final Four at VCU’s Siegel Center in Richmond.
Gate City was stung by its elimination at the hands of Virginia High in last year’s regionals.
Led by power guard Luke Ervin (19 ppg), a stronger, smarter Andy Arnold (15 ppg) at the post and prestidigitating point guard Dylan Jenkins (13 ppg), the Blue Devils appear no less promising a team than they were last year.
The squad has gifted role players like Michael Collier and Nick Bowen to do the dirty work, as well as a deep and capable bench to keep the pressure on.
“Our team is playing with a sense of urgency,” coach Scott Vermillion said. “We have to improve our rebounding. We have to improve taking care of the ball and certainly our shot selection. But we have a sense of purpose.”
Likewise for the Wise-Central girls, who pick up a thread dropped by defunct powerhouse J.J. Kelly.
“I coached (at Kelly) for a long time and it seemed like we were in the quarterfinals every year. But getting here isn’t as easy as it seems. We found that out the last two or three years,” said coach Robin Dotson, whose Lady Warriors (26-1) take on Patrick Henry (22-5) in a 5:30 p.m. game at the Prior Center Saturday.
Central is paced by Hayley Wyrick (23 ppg), Logan Reynolds (16 ppg, 7 rpg, 6 apg, 5 spg) and Laura Gipe (12 ppg, 9 rpg) with Reagan Davis’ posing a constant perimeter threat that accentuates the trio’s effectiveness. The Lady Warriors can go 10 deep and get after it endline-to-endline.
In Division 1 girls action, Region D champion Clintwood (17-9) takes on Northwood (17-7) in a 2 p.m. game at the Prior Center.
Led by freshman phenom Kayla Mullins (18.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg) the Lady Greenwave are making their first state tournament appearance since Bill Deel led Clintwood to the Group A fall championship in 1989.
In the D1 boys bracket, Region D champ Castlewood (21-5) confronts Parry McCluer (20-6) in a 4 p.m. quarterfinal game at the Prior Center.
The Fighting Blues are coached by Nelson Fox, who has more than 500 career victories.
“You never know when you’ll get here again. So we want to take full advantage of it,” said Blue Devils coach Doug Campbell, whose team is led by Reid Edmonds (17.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.3 apg, 4.2 spg), Tyler Austin (15 ppg), Dylan Trent (12 ppg) and Ben Couch (10 ppg, 9 rpg).
While anything can happen in the state quarterfinals, four other area teams face a more decidedly uphill battle as they travel to up I-81 to the Salem Civic Center to face Region C champion squads.
In the D1 girls bracket, Castlewood (20-6) takes on Covington (22-4) at 5 o’clock tonight, followed by a 6:30 D2 clash between Gate City (17-12) and top-ranked Floyd County (25-2).
“They’ve done a pretty good job motivating themselves. They’re not ready for softball yet,” said Castlewood coach Barry Ruff, whose team is led by Caitlyn Fleming (11.5 ppg, 10 rpg).
The Gate City girls are paced by fraternal twins Jordan Gose (15.6 ppg) and Morgan Gose (15 ppg). Coach Kelly Houseright, who led the Lady Blue Devils to last year’s title game, knows her team has its hands full.
“Floyd County won it the year I was in the state (at Rye Cove). They’ve got a rich tradition,” Houseright said. “We know they’re going to press us for four quarters and try to wear us down.
“But I think we’re a little deeper than we were last year.”
In the boys D2 bracket, Virginia High (13-14) faces Radford (25-2) at 8 o’clock tonight. In the boys D1 bracket, J.I. Burton (13-14) will rise early Saturday for a 10 a.m. showdown with Bland County (14-10).
“If you’re playing for a trip to the Final Four, I don’t care if you play it at 2 in the morning. You only have one shot at it and the time is irrelevant. You have 32 minutes to win or lose,” said Raiders coach Aaron Williams, whose team is led buy Ervin Beaty McKenzie Blair, Alex Keys.