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Blue Devils survive wild district battle with Bears

Kevin Mays • Jan 25, 2020 at 2:48 AM

BIG STONE GAP — After the end of a game at Union that ended in a flurry of fouls and confusion, Gate City had taken another step toward winning another Mountain 7 District boys basketball championship Friday.

The Blue Devils outscored the Bears 6-3 over the final 1:06 to take a 55-52 victory inside the Bear Den.

“It was insane,” Gate City coach Scotty Vermillion said. “They made some mistakes in the last minute. They turned it over to us or we don’t win. Our pressure probably had a little bit to do with that.

“It was really over the last 2:30. We got down five, got to the basket one time. A layup cut it to three and we were able to get another turnover and another bucket cut it to one.”

See Roddy Addington’s 📸📸📸 from Friday

Gate City (10-4, 7-0) maintained a two-game advantage on Wise Central and Abingdon in the league.

Vermillion, who coached the Blue Devils to the VHSL Class 2 championship two years ago and a state tournament appearance last year, had one of his more peculiar wins Friday. But he said a district win on the road is a big win.

“This is a hard place to play, it truly is,” Vermillion said. “You come to these places and everybody wants to beat us and we understand that. And they should. If I was them, I’d be pulling all the strings to beat us and I thought they had a great game plan. They played us hard and they made buckets and they guarded us pretty well.”

The Blue Devils will likely be playing Sullivan East on Saturday minus team leader Bradley Dean. The senior sharpshooter was ejected in the final minutes of Friday’s game after being hit with his second technical foul. Dean, who scored a game-high 29 points, was assessed his first technical during the first half.

After a missed basket by Union in the final seconds, Dean grabbed a rebound and was fouled hard along the baseline. He retaliated to draw his second technical foul, leading to the ejection. According to VHSL rules, he must sit out one game.

“If that’s the case, we’ll do that,” Vermillion said. “He has to make a better decision than that.”

Union had its chances to win right down to the final second when a 3-point attempt was off the mark.

The Bears (10-6, 3-4) led 36-28 at halftime and stayed out front through the third until a buzzer- beating basket from Dean put the Blue Devils up 42-41.

The teams kept things close in the final quarter until Dean tied it at 49 by hitting 1 of 2 free throws with 1:12 to play. Six seconds later, he hit two more free throws to give Gate City the lead for the rest of the way.

“I felt like we came into the game tonight thinking that we could beat them and it showed,” said Union coach Zack Moore. “We just couldn’t put them away and that’s why they’re so good. That’s why they are who they are.

“Give them credit for coming and taking the lead and eventually winning the game.”

Bradley Bunch scored 15 points to lead Union. Malachi Jenkins had 12 and Noah Jordan added 11.

LADY BEARS TIGHTEN RACE

The fight for second place in the Mountain 7 girls standings became a lot more interesting Friday.

Union scored the first basket against Gate City and never trailed on the way to a 61-48 victory.

The win by the Lady Bears (12-4, 4-3) along with Abingdon’s victory over Ridgeview (12-4, 5-2) allowed the Lady Falcons (16-1, 7-0) to build a nice cushion at the top of the district standings.

At this point of the year, Abingdon appears to be the likely regular-season champion and No. 1 seed for the district tournament. If that holds, the Lady Falcons will earn an automatic spot in the Region 3D tournament.

All of the other Mountain 7 teams are in Class 2, and the district's highest-finishing Class 2 team will gain the Mountain 7’s automatic bid to the Region 2D tournament. The Lady Bears’ win Friday set up a battle for the automatic regional bid among three teams: Ridgeview, Gate City and Union.

“It is definitely making that 2 seed very interesting right now,” said Union coach Kory Bostic. “(Abingdon) is obviously 3A, but us 2A teams are going to battle it out and try to get that top spot.”

Emili Brooks finished with 13 points for the Lady Bears, and Heather Lipps and Hannah Willis added 12 apiece.

Sarah Thompson led Gate City with 20 points.

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