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ECI squeeks past Portal
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    PORTAL — The night after Portal senior Fred Williams scored his 2000th career point, the Panthers (17-7, 8-4) fell short to the Emanuel County Institute Bulldogs in a heartbreaking 55-53 loss on Saturday.
    Seemingly cruising at the start, Williams started off hot.  Hitting his first two shots and sinking four free throws in the first quarter, he seemed to be on his way to another big night, but early foul trouble kept him on the bench for the end of the first and most of the second quarter.
    Even with Williams on the bench, the Panthers were able to keep a comfortable lead after two quarters. Mario Farris (14 points, five rebounds) kept things going as the Panthers hit the locker room leading 30-22.  It would have been 30-19, but Bulldog LaCollie Gordon hit an epic, buzzer beating half-court 3-pointer to end the half.
    ECI came out of the break with something to prove, and in the third quarter, the Bulldogs managed to outscore the homecourt Panthers 20-10.  
    “We have to do a better job of playing four quarters (when we) play games back to back,” said Portal coach Jeff Brennen. “We kind of struggled in the second half, and (ECI) just out-hustled us to the ball.”
    The lopsided third quarter would set the stage for eight minutes of basketball neither ECI or Portal fans would soon forget. Trailing by two heading into the fourth, the Bulldogs made the Panthers work for their points.  ECI shot 4-for-7 from the field, and Portal hit only 2 of 9 in the fourth.  It was the clutch shooting from the foul line that kept them in the game until the end.  Portal went 9-for-11 from the charity stripe with Shane Reese’s final two tying the game at 53 with 36 seconds left on the clock. A long bounce pass down the court would be the difference in the game for the Bulldogs as Gordon took the throw from Brooks Kirkland and laid in what would be the eventual winning bucket.
    “We had a lot of guys step up tonight,” said Emanuel coach Isaac Bright. “The guys are playing really tough right now and we just have to maintain what we’ve got going. If they keep doing that, I’ll feel alright (going into the playoffs.)”
    Farris led the Panthers in scoring, while Marquon Jackson and Williams each adding 10.
    “We rushed too much on offense and our shot selection wasn’t good, but tomorrow is another day and we are going to work hard on Monday to get it right for senior day Tuesday against Richmond Hill,” said Brannen.

Lady Bulldogs 60,
Lady Panthers 51

    The Portal Lady Panthers lost a tough one against Emanuel County Institute Saturday, getting into foul trouble early and staying there for much of the game.
    Trailing only by three at halftime, Portal was hanging around, hitting 6 of 8 foul shots in the first half and out-rebounding ECI 16-9. The Panthers committed 14 fouls in the first half, but the Lady Bulldogs hit only 8 of 21 foul shots and gave the Lady Panthers a chance to stay in the game.
    The fouling continued from there. Portal shot 6-for-11 in the third quarter and was still within five heading into the fourth. However, under the strength of Anglika Lundy’s 15 point night, ECI pulled off the win.
    “I feel pretty good heading into the playoffs,” said ECI coach Dewitt Davis. “Right now it looks like we will be playing Claxton. They beat us last night, so it should be a good matchup.”
    Portal’s Kanesha Eason led all scorers with 18 points on the night and Bridgett Oglesby added 10.
    “I feel good about this. The girls went out and played a hard fought game last night. Then they showed up tonight and put up 51 points,” said Lady Panther coach Earl Donaldson. “We have a young team and I am very proud of them.”

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