The Blue Devils, playing for the first time in a month with senior star Zac Ervin in the lineup, were rough around the edges Wednesday night, but in the end had enough to claim a 69-55 win over Lebanon in Region 2D quarterfinal play.
Led by the 26-point outing of new alpha dog Bradley Dean, Gate City (22-3) moves into Friday's 6 p.m. Region D semifinal against Mountain 7 District rival Wise Central, a quarterfinal winner against Richlands.
The survivor of the Gate City-Wise Central game will earn a state tournament berth.
"One possession at a time, one game at a time," said 16th-year Gate City head coach Scott Vermillion. "We're going to focus on Friday."
Ervin, who has signed to play at D1 Wofford, returned for the first time since last playing on Jan. 19, when he scored 29 points in a win over Daniel Boone. The 6-foot-5 forward, with more than 2,200 career points, missed the last eight games after undergoing knee surgery (meniscus) some 25 days ago.
Ervin has averaged over 30 points a game this season, but his rust showed early and Lebanon took advantage, leading 12-2 at one point.
"I knew it would be like that," Vermillion said. "Anytime you put a kid back in the lineup who hasn't been in for a while, it causes confusion a little bit. After the first quarter we kind of figured it out, and Zac got more and more comfortable as the game went along. It's good to see him back healthy and able to play, for him. He's going to be all right."
Ervin finished with 18 points to back Dean, while junior teammate Jon Compton continued to step up with three 3s and 15 points.
"A lot of guys are still stepping up for us, and that's what we need," Vermillion said. "Jon shot the ball well, especially in the first half."
A 6-2 junior guard, Dean came off the bench in a rare non-start, and it didn't take long for him to leave his impression once entering four minutes into the game, hitting a pair of 3s and scoring four more first-half buckets as Gate City wiped out a 15-11 deficit after one quarter to lead 34-29 at halftime.
Whenever Gate City needed a big bucket, Dean would insist on the ball.
"We knew coming in that he was going to be hard to stay in front of," said Lebanon coach Brian Hooker, who received 14 points each from Sage Potts and Preston Steele. "He's a great player, but I'm proud of my guys. We could have come over here and rolled over, but we made it respectable."
The Pioneers (11-16) managed to tie the game at 34 early in the third period before finishing the quarter down 54-47 and never getting any closer thereafter.