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Portal boys in Elite 8
Portal Basketball
Portal's Elijah Coleman, front, and Joseph Thomas, top, pressure Pelham's Jayden Parker for a steal during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Feb. 27.

The Portal Panthers have been a team that can go on a run and pull away from their opponent. Saturday night they did it again, coming back from a double digit first half lead and used a 13-0 run in the second half to put away Pelham 61-52 to advance to the Class-A public quarterfinals.

The Panthers trailed the Hornets 19-8 in the first quarter, but then went on a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to 27-25 at the half. Trailing 33-32 in the second half the Panthers went on a 13-0 run keyed by Fred Spells on the defensive end, and Elijah Coleman and Joseph Thomas on offense as the freshmen duo had 20 points apiece.

“We told them going in that if our guards could handle the double teams and physical play we could come out on top,” said Brannen. “We were a little timid coming out in the game, but we started punishing them for their pressure in the second half. Elijah did a great job of beating the double team and finding players cutting to the basket in the second half.”

The Hornets rode the hot shooting of Jeray Randall to jump out top their early lead. Randall scored 10 points in the first quarter including a pair of deep three pointers. Randall finished the game with 15 points, as did fellow sharpshooter Ladis Ross who had 15 points as well including three, three pointers.

In the first half comeback Coleman and Thomas took turns scoring on the offensive end. Coleman had 11 of his 20 points in the first half, while Thomas scored 12 of his 20 in the first half. The only other points scored by a Panther player in the first half was two free throws by Amir Jackson.

The second half saw a more balanced attack by the Panthers. Spells had five of his eight blocked shots in the third quarter and altered many other shots. Spells threw down a dunk to give Portal a 34-33 and spurred their 13-0 run.

“Fred is a difference maker, and just knowing he is there makes teams stay out of the paint,” said Brannen. “Teams are going to have to beat us from the outside. Now they did hit a few thee pointers, but with Fred and Amir inside we have quite an advantage.”

Coleman has been the Panthers most consistent offensive player this season. Thomas has been a little more off and on but getting 20 points from him was what Brannen felt was a key to the victory.

“Joseph has had his moments this year,” said Brannen he is averaging over 15 points per game, but we need him to play in control more, like he did tonight. When he is relaxed and can find his shooting rhythm, he is tough to stop.”

The Panthers ended up on the wrong end of the universal coin flip which is used to determine where games will be played in the event two No. 1 seeds' meet. Portal will now have to travel nearly four hours to take on 15-1 Chattahoochee County Tuesday at 6:00 in Cusseta for the Class-A Elite-8.

The “other” Panthers come in ranked No. 5 in the state. They are led by 6-3 sophomore Dexter Holloman who comes in averaging 17 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. 6-0 junior Naketa Ellington is the team’s second leading scorer at 12.7 points per contest.

“Holloman is a slasher who can shoot outside, but he prefers to drive to the basket,” said Brannen. “Ellington is more of a three-point shooter. They like to press on defense, but on offense they prefer to play a half-court offense as opposed to running up and down the floor.”

The area where the Portal Panthers look to have a big advantage is with size and rebounding. Chattahoochee is only averaging 11.4 rebounds per game as a team, while the Panthers Amir Jackson and Fred Spells combine for 18 per contest. Portal is averaging 35.3 rebounds per game as a team.

“I am hoping our size and rebounding can be to our advantage,” said Brannen. “Right now, Amir is dealing with an injured hand, but we are hopefully he can be ready to play Tuesday. Fred has been a huge difference maker and has been averaging double figure blocks in the last four games. We know the farther we go the tougher the competition, and we are expecting a great game Tuesday night.”