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Panthers force Game Three

    PORTAL — The Portal Panthers dropped Game One of the first-round three-game series of the Class A State Playoffs to the Wilcox County Patriots Friday, but when it came down to elimination, Brett Rivers pitched a complete game, struck out eight, led PHS to a 7-3 victory and forced a Game Three.
    “Rivers did a wonderful job,” said Panther coach Tendai Haggins. “He wanted to stay in there… He likes that challenge. He’s just a young little scrappy fireballer.”
    In the effort, Rivers allowed only four Patriot hits as he went the distance on 139 pitches.
    After a rocky Game One, Portal’s bats lit up. Shortstop Dustin Jones (1-for-4 in Game One) came to life at the end of the second game hitting safely in each of the last three innings. In those three at-bats, he doubled, drove in a run, and crossed the plate twice on the Panther’s way to putting the game out of reach from the Patriots.
    It took a few innings before PHS could get anything going, remaining hitless and trailing 1-0 heading into the third inning. They were able to tie the game after a Derek Finch double and a Tagg Lanier walk when Brandon Mock — who pitched most of the first game and allowed six earned runs while striking out eight — ripped a run-scoring double into left field.
    Lanier was thrown out at third, but the momentum of the run-scoring inning carried through the rest of the lineup. Portal was able to capitalize when they had baserunners and take advantage of the four Wilcox errors to score six runs over the last three innings and seal the victory, almost an exact replica of how the Patriots were able to win the first game of the series.
    “We didn’t make the errors (we did in Game One),” said Haggins, “and we hit the baseball. We just made too many errors at the beginning of (Game One), and we didn’t swing the bat well. We didn’t hit the baseball.”
    The Panther win forced a third game that will be played today at 5 p.m. in Portal. A win there would advance the No. 2 seed Panthers to the second round.

  Patriots 8, Panthers 3    
    The Patriots and Panthers both threw their number one pitchers in Game One of the three-game series, and one bad inning for PHS starter Brandon Mock proved to be the difference in the 8-3 Patriot victory.
    Mock struck out seven batters in his four innings of work, but WCHS chalked up five runs after taking a 2-0 lead heading into the third.
    Wilcox catcher Anthony Haire crushed a 1-0 pitch to straightaway center for a solo homer to start the third-inning rally, and starting pitcher Jeffrey Portivent followed suit by lining the first pitch he saw off the wall in center for a double.
    A Greg McDuffie single drove in Portivent for a 4-0 Patriot lead.
    Three base hits and two walks accounted for three more runs and the Panthers got out of the inning trailing 7-0.
    The only real signs of life from the Panther bats came in a two-run fourth inning that was led off with a solo home run by catcher Tagg Lanier.
    The homer was the 21st of Lanier’s career at Portal, setting a new school record. The old record — 20 — was held by the current Panther coach Haggins.
    “Tagg’s been keeping up with (the record),” said Haggins. “We talked about it a couple of weeks ago. I’m just proud of my senior.
    “If he can continue with that — give me a few more of those — I’ll be a little more happy if we can come out on top.”
    Lanier was injured after tripping over first base in the fifth inning of Game Two and was on crutches for the remainder of the contest.
    The injury — most likely a bruise on his knee — leaves him questionable for today.

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