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Portal boys headed to state

Panthers handle Claxton, PHS girls wrap up season

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    SAVANNAH — The No. 3 seed Portal Panthers dismantled the No. 7 seed Claxton Tigers Wednesday night, 73-35, in the first round of the region 3-A basketball playoffs.
    For the Tigers, the game started off ugly. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Thomas Busby and Marquon Jackson started the scoring for the Panthers, and Portal would go on to start the game on an 11-2 run in the first 3:30. They never looked back. After the Panthers’ run, the Tigers called a timeout. While it was able to stifle the scoring attack put fourth by Portal, Claxton could not generate any offense itself, and the first quarter ended with Portal leading, 13-4.
    Led by Jackson’s four first-half assists and Mario Farris’ 13 first-half points, the Panthers took a 33-17 lead into halftime. The gap only widened from there.
    Portal out-rebounded the Tigers 37-23 and were able to run up and down the court to wear out the Tigers. Claxton turned the ball over 19 times in the contest and Portal was able to finish the Tigers off while giving its starters a rest. At the start of the fourth quarter, Portal coach Jeff Brannen sat each of his starters and let the bench finish out the game.  With the victory, Portal earned a spot in the state playoffs.
    “There’s a lot of pressure – you want to win the first one because that means you’re in the state playoffs,” said Brannen.
    The game was highlighted by a 24-point performance by Farris. He added eight rebounds and a pair of steals to his game-leading scoring effort. Along with Farris, Fred Williams added 16 points that featured a pair of alley-oops from guard Jackson.
    “We feel very confident going into (the next game), said Farris. “We just have to stay focused and play defense.”
    Defense is one area in which Brannen feels his team could use some improvement.
    “We had a couple of lulls in the first half where we didn’t defend well and gave up some easy baskets,” Brannen said. “Overall, in the second half, we came out and turned our defense up. We got some easy baskets off of their turnovers. We’ve just got to work on the mistakes we made tonight and get a little bit more focused, and we’ll be alright.”
    Portal will play the winner of Wednesday’s Bryan County/Emanuel County Institute game Friday at 5:30 p.m. ECI is a heavy favorite, and should they win, the Panthers will have the stage set for revenge.
    “In a tournament, anything can happen,” Brannen said. “(ECI) beat us twice during the year, and we’ve got something to prove. They do too. It is hard to beat a team three times in one year when they are so evenly matched.”

Lady Eagles 47,
Lady Panthers 33
    The No. 7 seed Portal Lady Panthers ended their season in a tough loss against the No. 3 seed Jenkins County Lady Eagles on Wednesday. Trailing 29-10 after the first half, the Lady Panthers picked up the intensity and closed the gap to 10, but the late effort was not enough to overcome the first-half deficit. The loss put an end to a long season for the Lady Panthers, but coach Earl Donaldson feels confident taking his young team into next season.
    “We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores,” he said. “This team is basically a sophomore team, so hopefully we’ll be okay next year.”
    Lady Eagle Coach Randy Cooper hopes to have his Jenkins girls ready for the next round, although he feels his team still has some wrinkles to iron out.
    “We’ve got to stop the turnovers,” Cooper said. “The girls’ spirits are up, so hopefully we can go out and get another win.”
    Lady Panther Bridgett Oglesby led all scorers with 16 points, while Nicole Smith put up 12 for the Lady Eagles.
    Jenkins County will take on the winner of the Bryan County/Savannah Country Day game on Friday.
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