Saturday’s victory ranked right up there among the biggest, the veteran coach said.
It wasn’t a state championship. It wasn’t a regional or district championship. It wasn’t even a regular-season district game or against a big rival.
Vermillion has done all of those.
But the 79-72 win over Sullivan East was big because it resulted from one of Vermillion’s biggest coaching jobs and his normally unsung players responding to him and his staff.
The Blue Devils’ win was their 63rd in their past 64 games at Gate City Middle School — and the first during the stretch that featured a Gate City squad without a 1,000-point scorer on the floor.
Gate City (11-4) was without team leader Bradley Dean, who served a one-game suspension after being ejected from Friday’s matchup with Union after picking up two technical fouls.
“It’s one of my prouder wins,” Vermillion said. “Yes, we won the state title, which I loved. But honestly, there’s nothing more important than the way these kids think about me and the way I feel about them.
“When it happens like this and you see the fruit of everybody’s labor, it’s really satisfying. It really is.
“We’ve still got a bit of work to do. But Brad is one of the best players around,” Vermillion added. “Put him back in this mix and we’d be pretty good if everybody keeps doing what they’re doing.”
Vermillion said the win was a huge confidence booster for his players.
“It has to be,” the coach said. “For Andrew Hensley to turn it loose like he did and Eli (Starnes) to become more of a penetrating guard. That relieves the pressure off of (guard) Jon Compton and Brad.”
Hensley led the Blue Devils with 23 points, and Compton and David George each contributed 13.
Sullivan East (12-12) stayed close throughout and narrowed Gate City’s lead to 74-72 with 34 seconds left to play. But the Blue Devils scored the final five points over the final 30 seconds on free throws from Hensley, George and Luke Reed.
Dylan Bartley led a quartet of double-figure scorers for Sullivan East with 18 points. Ethan Bradford and Eric Hare had 17 each and Clayton Ivester added 10.
THOMPSON’S BIG NIGHT
The Sullivan East girls fought through to a 69-65 overtime win over Gate City in their game.
Despite the loss, Lady Blue Devils junior Sarah Thompson had a night to remember, surpassing the 1,000-point mark in her career after scoring a game-high 29.
Her milestone night came in only her 59th high school game. Thompson missed several games her freshman season because of a broken wrist.
Thompson knew she was close to the milestone but still was surprised when she hit the mark.
“A lot of my friends knew about it and a lot of my family knew about it,” she said. “It was a big goal of mine and I’m glad I achieved it.”
Sullivan East (15-9) got 21 points from Jenna Hare and 15 each from Riley Nelson and Hayley Grubb. Emma Aubrey added 11.
Lexi Ervin added 15 points to complement Thompson’s big night for Gate City (8-8).