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Panthers shutout CHS
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    PORTAL — Ariel “Red” Lanier's bases-loaded, three-run double in the fourth inning gave the Portal Lady Panthers (5-4) a 5-0 lead and the Claxton Lady Tigers could not climb back as Kaylie Howell pitched a three-hit shutout and PHS got a 7-0 Region 3-A win Tuesday.
    “I honestly think that this is the best game we've played (this season),” said Panther coach Shannon Davis, “both offensively and defensively. Defense has been great the whole time, but the bats really came alive today.”
    Portal out-hit the Tigers 9-3 and Lanier finished 2-for-4 with a double and four RBIs.
    “(Lanier) has always had the potential just to let it rip,” said Davis. “It's just coming around. We've been practicing a lot more with technique on hitting, and they've really started paying attention and doing what we're asking them to do. It's really making a huge difference.”
    Already leading 5-0 in the sixth, Ellie Finch got the scoring started when she ripped a leadoff double to right field. A Megan Moore single put runners on the corners, and a Boshna Williams sacrifice bunt scored Finch. Moore scored on Jessie Mixon's sacrifice fly that soared into foul territory when there was nobody covering home.
    The Tigers were not without their opportunities. They were not able to capitalize on leadoff doubles in the first and second innings, and came up short in the top of the fifth with the bases loaded and one out.
    After loading the bases on a Tanika Valentine base hit and a pair of walks, Howell forced a come-backer to the mound and was able to nail Valentine at home. A groundout to second ended the threat.
    The Panthers also turned two double plays in the contest.
    “We've just got some girls that just have some innate skill,” Davis said. “(The coaches) don't really have to do anything (about defense).”
    Offensively, the Panthers have had some issues that have needed some work. Davis recently decided to change a few things about the way the Panthers practice.
    “We've been (practicing) with some live pitching,” said Davis, “and I think that's probably helped a lot. We had been just using a pitching machine, but I think the live pitching has helped tremendously.”
    Portal travels to Savannah Country Day for a 4:30 p.m. game Thursday. The Lady Hornets are leading the region with a perfect 7-0 record, but the last time the two teams met, PHS gave them a scare.
    The Panthers had the score tied at three heading into the sixth, but a late rally sealed the SCD victory.
    Portal is happy that the Claxton win will give it some momentum heading into Thursday's contest.
    “This is a great win to set us up for that game,” Davis said. “It gives us some confidence. They're a tough team, but we're just going to play our game and see what happens.”
    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.