For five Southwest Virginia basketball teams, this is the time of the year when the rubber meets the road.
The Castlewood, Clintwood and Wise Central girls along with the J.I. Burton and Gate City boys gladly hit the road over the past two days, heading to Richmond to participate in the VHSL Final Four at the Siegel Center on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.
Action for area teams tips off Thursday at 11 a.m. when Castlewood (21-6) takes on defending state champion East Rockingham (27-1) in the girls Group A, Division 1 semifinals.
The Lady Eagles had a 51-game winning streak snapped in their district semifinals.
“East Rockingham is a really strong team,” said Lady Blue Devils head coach Barry Ruff. “They have three or four players who can step up.”
Ruff understands what a challenge his squad faces in the matchup.
“We’ll take the same attitude to Richmond that we took to Salem,” Ruff said of his team’s performance in winning its state quarterfinal game. “We can’t have any worries. We must play loose and execute.
“We’ll just try to stay true to ourselves,” added Ruff. “We’ll win as a team or lose as a team.”
J.I. Burton (14-14) meets Altavista (22-3) at 1 p.m. Thursday in a Division 1 boys matchup.
“Altavista is a really talented team,” said Burton head coach Aaron Williams. “They are solid in every position and are very aggressive defensively.
“We must defend and rebound well in order to be competitive,” added Williams. “I told the guys, you can’t win a state championship unless you get into it. This will be a great opportunity for us.”
Clintwood’s Lady Greenwave (18-9) meet Altavista (22-4) at 3 p.m. in a Division 1 showdown.
The Lady Wave are coming off an impressive 55-34 win over Northwood in the state quarterfinals. The Lady Colonels defeated Colonial Beach 53-36.
Thursday at 9 p.m., Gate City (24-5) takes on William Monroe (25-4) in a boys Group A, Division 2 semifinal.
This game should be like two teams looking in the mirror.
“They are a lot like us,” said Gate City head coach Scott Vermillion. “They are very athletic and can score from a lot of places.
“William Monroe has a good post and likes to put a lot of pressure on you defensively.”
Having coached in previous Final Fours, Vermillion understands how important a team’s mental attitude is this time of year.
“We have to keep things simple,” said Vermillion. “All we should be focused on is the process.
“Being successful in the Final Four boils down to one simple thing: Tough teams win tough games.”
The final local team to see action will be Wise Central (27-1), which will play Clarke County (23-6) on Friday at 12:15 p.m. in the Group A, Division 2 girls semifinals.
The Lady Eagles won the state title in 2007.
“Clarke County is well coached,” said Central head coach Robin Dotson. “They like to press and will mix up their defenses to keep you off guard.”
Dotson took J.J. Kelly to the Final Four three times between 1998 and 2002, winning a state title in ’02.
“I feel good about where we are as a team,” said Dotson. “The girls are very focused. Their goal was to win a state championship and now they are in a position to do that.
“What I’ve told the girls is that the best team doesn’t always win at state,” added Dotson. “The team that plays best that day wins.
“They must play the first game like it's the final. We can’t look past that semifinal game.”
The Division 1 girls and boys finals will be on Friday and the Division 2 championship games will be played Saturday.