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Panthers stun ECI

Panthers stun ECI

Panthers stun ECI

Portal's Shiann Hagins celebrates as ...


    SOPERTON — The final brackets for the Class A public school state playoffs won’t be known until the middle of next week, but Portal is making a strong case to make the field for a second consecutive season.
    The Lady Panthers notched a win in Tuesday’s opening round of the Region 3-A tournament and — after two days of waiting out weather delays — knocked off top-seeded Emanuel County Institute (15-7) in a 48-47 nail-biter Friday at Treutlen High School.
    Breyonna Raymond scored the final points of the game at the 1:16 mark, but plenty of drama filled the final 76 seconds of play.
    Portal (13-14) gathered in a pair of defensive rebounds, but missed on four consecutive free throws that could have extended the lead.
    ECI’s La Tia Williams found herself wide open under the basket, but missed a short jumper with 6.7 seconds remaining.
    Portal’s Shiann Hagins couldn’t convert on either of her free throws, keeping it a one-point game. Ashanra Steel led the Lady Bulldogs with 17 points, but her desperation heave fell short as the final buzzer sounded.
    “We felt like we had a good chance in this game,” Portal coach Cliff Hubbard said. “Early in the season, we played a lot of close games. Some of those slipped away from us, but we were prepared to win this one down the stretch.”
    Portal dropped a 40-33 regular season matchup with ECI in January. This time around, the Panthers brought another weapon to the fight.
    Chandelier Morgan sat out almost all of the regular season with an injury before making her return as a focal point of what is becoming a great postseason run.
    Morgan hit three 3-pointers on the night, including a buzzer-beater to put the Panthers up 33-32 after the third quarter.
    Morgan’s outside shooting combined with Raymond (17 points) driving the lane and Hagins (9 points) scoring tough baskets inside and patrolling the boards.
    “Having a full, healthy team really helps,” Hubbard said. “It allows all of our girls to play to their strengths. We’re definitely getting a big boost with Chandelier coming back to help us.”
    In Class A, the results of region tournaments don’t determine state playoff qualification as they do in other classifications. Instead, a computer-generated power poll ranks all teams and determines which schools will fill out the 16-team brackets for both public and private schools.
    Portal entered its region tournament sitting at No. 13 – precariously close to the state tournament bubble.
    The Panthers’ opening win over Wheeler County gave them a boost and Friday’s quality win likely removed any doubt as to whether they’ll head to the state playoffs for a second consecutive season.
    But there is still business at hand.
    “Our main focus is that this is the first time we’ve advanced to the region semifinals,” Hubbard said. “Getting back to state would be nice, but we’d love to put a banner on the wall back at our gym.”
    Portal faces another waiting period as the Panthers won’t take the court again until Monday. The Panthers will face either Claxton or Montgomery County at 6 p.m. with the winner advancing to Tuesday’s region championship game.

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

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