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Portal set for tonight’s season opener with SEB

    The Portal Panthers knew they would have a big gap to fill in 2007 when senior and leading scorer Fred Williams played his last game of the season in the 2006 GHSA state playoffs, but with some familiar faces and some new additions, PHS hopes it will not miss a beat.
    “I think you can’t replace Fred with one person,” said Panther coach Jeff Brannen. “It’s going to be more team oriented. As a team somebody’s going to have to step up. From a scoring standpoint, we’re going to have to get more people involved.”
    One of the players that will be looked upon to have a big role on offense will be senior Mario Farris, who’s 17-plus points per game in 2006 was second on the team. The Panthers will take advantage of Farris’ size to get some points in the paint, and the inside threat should help take some pressure off for the outside scorers.
    “(Farris) is going to be our inside scorer,” said Brannen. “We’re going to have to get the ball inside to him to set other people up.”
    Helping out Farris will be a slew of experienced athletes. Out of the 13-man roster, Portal sports six seniors and five juniors. Brannen looks to take advantage of the added depth and experience to use 11 or 12 a game and keep the team fresh. Hopefully, said Brannen, it will help wear down the opponent.
    To go along with the returning Panthers, transfer David Buchannan looks to have an immediate impact from the start. He and his sister Kendra moved to Portal from Indiana, and both look to add some strength to the Panther basketball program.
    “(Buchannan is) a floor general,” said Brannen. “He’s a coach on the floor that’s in charge of getting everybody in the right spot. He sets everybody up well, and he’s a true point guard that can score.”
    Buchannan will join Shane Reese, who averaged just under nine points per contest in ‘06 as a guard. Reese is a multi-tasker who can be used in a number of different situations.
    “Shane can play any position on the floor. He can even post up if we need him to,” Brannen said. “I think one of our strong points is going to be our versatility. We can play players at point or we can play them at center, so at any given time, we might put five guards on the floor.”
    In 2006, the Panthers had no trouble scoring points, and they look to be talented on the offensive ball heading into 2007. Brannen has focused his team on improving on the defensive side of the ball in the offseason.
    “Our system is going to be the same,” said Brannen, “but we worked all during the summer on developing a bench, and we worked our man-to-man defense a lot more.”
    Portal tips off the 2007 season when it hosts Southeast Bulloch tonight. The Lady Panthers take on the Lady Yellow Jackets at 6 p.m. and the boys will tip off at 7:30.
    “(SEB) is only 20 miles down the road,” Brannen said. “Our players know their players. Any time you go in-county and play another team, it’s always — I wouldn’t say a rivalry — it’s just a good competition and a chance for people in Bulloch County to come and see two teams play.”

Lady Panthers add depth with new faces
    The Portal Lady Panthers struggled throughout the 2006 season winning only three games and falling to the Jenkins County Lady Eagles in the first round of regionals, but this season, coach Earl Donaldson anticipates a quick turnaround.
    Joining a pair of freshmen who look to have an immediate impact for the squad is transfer Cassandra McBride, a senior who played her ball at Statesboro High in 2006. McBride led the Panthers in scoring against Wayne County in last week’s opener.
    Along with McBride, Donaldson hopes freshmen Nikki Sims and Jessica Brannen — daughter of boys’ coach Jeff Brannen — will have a hand in a quick Panther turnaround.
    “(The two freshmen) should play for us right away,” said Donaldson. “They are looking good, and we should be competitive.”
    Rounding off the new faces on the Portal team is transfer Kendra Buchannan. A junior who, along with her brother David, moved to Portal from Indiana, looks to add an offensive spark to the PHS offense.
    Portal also returns some depth and experience with seniors Bridgett Oglesby and Dominique Allen returning to the fold along with four juniors.
    The new-look Panthers take on Southeast Bulloch tonight at 6 p.m.

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