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Portal wins 3-A regular season title

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    TWIN CITY — It finally happened to Portal.
    With a 56-53 win on the road against Emanuel County Institute Saturday, the Panthers (22-1, 12-0) finished their bid for an unbeaten Region 3-A season and won the school’s first regular-season region title.
    The Bulldogs — whose only two region losses have come at the hands of Portal — jumped out to an early lead, extending the gap to as many as eight points in the first half in an effort to spoil the perfect Panther season, but PHS clawed back, never trailing again in the game’s final 12 minutes
    Leading by four with 25.6 seconds to go, Mario Farris and Dan Farris both went 1-for-2 from the foul line, extending the lead to six and making sure that Karon McNeal’s 3-pointer in the game’s final seconds would not put ECI back into the game.
    The Bulldogs started hot, jumping out to an 11-4 lead and taking a 15-10 advantage into the second quarter. They held the advantage with a 22-21 halftime lead.
    “It was a tough game — a defensive battle,” said Panther coach Jeff Brannen. “ECI came out and threw some stuff at us. We knew it was going to be tough coming in. They did a good job of trapping and changing up their defense.”
    The Panthers took advantage of their four first-half trips to the charity stripe, staying in the game with a 7-for-8 foul-shot tally and keeping it close.
    Coming into the third quarter, PHS picked up the intensity.
    The lead changed hands five times in the first 3:09 of the third, and when David Buchannon fed Mario Farris for a jumper that put Portal up 27-26, Emanuel would not lead again.
    Clinging to a 29-28 lead, Farris (19 points, eight rebounds) intercepted a Washaun Ealey pass and took it the distance, slamming it home and bringing the Portal crowd to its feet. After ECI’s Dontae Richards and Portal’s Buchannon traded Buckets, the Panther faithful was once again brought to its feet when Shane Reese buried a 3 from six feet behind the arc.
    “We were struggling and ECI had us out of our offense,” said the PHS coach. “Shane came in and hit a big three and he got us jump-started. … ECI came at us hard. We’ve just got to be able to take the best shot I think like we did in the first half. Just survive and make our own runs.”
    The momentum shifted from there and allowed Portal to end the period on an 11-4 run, putting it up 40-33 heading into the final frame.
    Each time ECI looked to start a run, Dan Farris would put it to an abrupt end, grabbing a rebound or a steal that resulted in more Panther points.
    “Dan is a unique player,” Brannen said. “We play Dan when we play taller teams — teams that are physical. He gives us that physical presence inside. He doesn’t look to score. He just wants to go in there and do the dirty work, get those rebounds and make a good pass here and there and play defense. He stepped up tonight when we needed a big play and got some rebounds.”
    With help coming underneath, the Bulldogs looked to shut down Buchannon from the point. They held him scoreless in the second quarter, but he finished the contest with 16 points.
    “You have to give David credit,” said Brannen. “They played him in a box-and-one and trapped him all over the court and tried to be physical with him.
    “We tried some different things with him. We tried to post him up some to see what they were going to do. Just to see — put him down in the post.”
    Ealey led all scorers with 21 points, and Bulldog big-man Dexter Moody added 18.
    The Panthers end the season with a non-region game at Richmond Hill Tuesday at 6 p.m., before heading to Brooklet to rematch Statesboro in Southeast Bulloch’s new gym on Saturday, Feb. 9. Nobody will be permitted to enter without an advance ticket, available at both Portal and Statesboro’s main office starting Feb. 5.

Lady Bulldogs 53, Lady Panthers 42
    The Emanuel County Institute Lady Bulldogs (11-5, 5-2 Region 3-A) had three players score in double digits as they held on for a 53-42 region win against the Portal Lady Panthers.
    Portal (9-16, 3-9) trailed by as many as 16, but closed the gap to 11 on a game-ending six-point run that included four straight Kanesha Eason foul shots.
    The Panthers fed Eason the ball in the middle all night to try and counteract the size and speed of the Bulldogs, and she finished with a game-high 22 points. She made it a double-double on the night with her 10 rebounds.  
    “(Friday night against Jenkins County), I was not pleased with the girls’ performance,” said Lady Panthers coach earl Donaldson. “We told them they had to gel together (on Saturday), and Kanesha played a solid game. She said she would come out and play some ball, and she had a tremendous, tremendous ballgame.”
    The Panthers were out-run in man-to-man Friday against Jenkins, so they tried out the zone against the speedy ECI squad.
      “We decided to play zone,” said Donaldson, “and it worked out a lot better tonight. They played their hearts out tonight, and I am very pleased with their performance. It’s time to get ready for the (region) tournament.”
    Portal snatched seven steals in the contest and pulled in 26 rebounds in the loss.
    Angelika Lundy led ECI with 16 points and eight rebounds. Erica Dixon added 14 and Valesa McAllister got into double digits with 10.

Portal JV 40, ECI JV 40 (OT)
    Jaron Jones’ jumper from the foul line hit off the back of the rim as the buzzer sounded, and the Portal Panthers JV tied the Emanuel County Institute Bulldogs JV 40-40 after one overtime period Saturday in Twin City in the last game of the season.
    Lavonte Steel sank a lay-up as regulation ended to tie the game at 35 for the Bulldogs, and nether team could pull ahead in the extra period.
    ECI’s Christopher Covert led all scorers with 13 points and Deontray Williams added 11 for the Bulldogs.
    Devin Leach and Michael Reese each had 11 for the Panthers. Portal finished the season at 7-2-1 with the tie.

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.
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