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Panthers reign over 3-A

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Panthers reign over 3-A

Portal's Cory Reese, top, and Robert Lee celebrate as the buzzer sounds on their 68-51 victory over Jenkins County in Saturday's Region 3-A championship at Jenkins County High School in Millen.

    MILLEN — For the second consecutive season, the Portal Panthers took home the Region 3-A championship.
    After splitting a pair of regular season matchups with Jenkins County, Portal got the best of the War Eagles in Saturday night’s region championship tilt with a 68-51 win.
    Stacy Morgan put up 25 points for Portal while Marquise Wells ad Corey Reese each netted 11. In all, six Panthers scored eight or more points.
    “It was a total team effort,” Portal coach Jeff Brannen said. “From our scoring to our defense, everybody pitched in to get us this one. Playing three days in a row, I think we were a little tired, but everyone just kept hustling.”
    Armed with plenty of guards that usually have know problem driving the lane for points, the Panthers found nothing but trouble early on. Trentin Drayton stood tall in the middle for the Eagles (16-8), blocking four shots in the first three minutes of action.
    Jenkins County kept things close early on, but Drayton and Daniel Langston both found themselves in foul trouble and had to head to the bench.
    “Getting those early fouls really hurt us,” Jenkins County coach Mark Whitt said. “But sometimes, you’re going to have those calls go against you. We fought to stay in the game, but didn’t quite get it done down the stretch.”
    Portal began to make its move in the second quarter as Morgan broke loose for a pair of layups in transition. Morgan added a tough floater late in the period and Robert Lee ran the length of the floor for a layup following a steal to give Portal a 31-23 at the half.
    Jenkins County got itself back in the game in the third quarter by attacking the lane and getting to the free throw line.
    Zavondric Shingleton (13 points), Jamaine Torrence, Drayton and Langston all scored from the charity stripe early in the quarter as the Eagles pulled within 40-34.
    “We had to switch things up a little on defense,” Brannen said. “Jenkins County is a really good team. They found a way to battle back and force us to do some different things to stay out in front.”
    The biggest game-changer for Portal was the stifling defense that overwhelmed the Eagles down the stretch.
    Lee set the tone, leaping to block a shot, then diving for the loose ball and finding Shawn Hagins for an easy layup. After that acrobatic play fired up the Portal bench and crowd, the Panthers finished the game outscoring Jenkins by a 28-16 margin.
    “We were in pretty good shape after the first half,” Whitt said. “In the second half, I think we kind of got down a little bit. Portal got rolling and we couldn’t stay with them.”
    Conversely, the Panthers caught fire in the pressure-packed final minutes of a title matchup.
    “We’ve been in this game the last three years now,” Brannen said. “I think all of our guys were prepared. We knew what it was going to take to win a region championship.”
    With Jenkins County on the ropes in the fourth quarter, Portal showed its championship game chops as Morgan and Hagins poured on the points. The Panthers continued to stretch their lead before putting on the breaks to run out the final minutes.
    Portal’s region championship guarantees the Panthers a spot in the Class A state playoffs. As a team highly ranked in the latest power poll, Jenkins County is certain to make the field as well. Both teams will find out where they fall in the bracket next week.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.

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