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Portal girls capture first soccer region title
No. 1-ranked Panthers ready for run at state championship
Portal soccer
Portal striker Colby Stewart celebrates after scoring a goal in the first half of the Panthers' 5-1-win Tuesday evening over Johnson County at the Portal Athletic Complex. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

It’s already been a pretty successful year for Portal athletics and things are rolling right along into the spring sports. The No. 1 ranked Portal Lady Panther soccer team made history Tuesday night. A 5-1 victory over Johnson County gave them their first region championship in school history.

“Some of these girls have been with me from the start so this is even more special,” said Portal coach Johnnie Sanchez. “They have worked so hard for this the past couple of years so I am so proud of them. Our midfield is really clicking and they got us out to a lead and our defense stepped up when they needed to tonight as well.”

The Panthers wasted no time getting on the board as Maggie Brannen blasted a shot through traffic from about 15-yards away and found the back of the net for a 1-0 lead. Colby Stewart broke away from the defense, dribbled in and scored with just over 17 minutes remaining in the half to push the lead to 2-0. Less than 60 seconds later Brannen took a pass from Stewart and scored again to give Portal a commanding 3-0 halftime lead.

“It’s always fun to start off intense,” Sanchez said. “The passing and the teamwork is really cooking this year. I think we try and be different from teams that just kick the ball ahead and try and run it down and score. A couple of the goals tonight were build up goals instead of just booting it forward and hoping for the best.”

The Panthers weren’t done as the added two more goals in the second half. Brannen played a great through ball to a streaking Stewart who took a few dribbles and scored for the second time in the game to make it 4-0. Stewart then did a great job of getting a boot on a loose ball in front of the goal and scored for the third time converting on a hat trick.

“We have all had the same goal of being region champs and going deep in the playoffs,” Sanchez said. “Being ranked No. 1 in the state has been an honor but it also comes with some pressure of having a bullseye on your back. I have told the girls and myself we just have to stay humble and take it one game at a time.”

The game was a girl’s only contest because Johnson County does not have a boys team. The Lady Panthers improve to 10-0-1 overall and 9-0 in region play. The Panthers play a doubleheader Thursday at Bulloch Academy with the girls starting at 5:30 and the boys at 7:30.

Elsewhere the Southeast Bulloch Lady Jackets secured the No. 2 seed in their region with an exciting 1-0 win over Islands Tuesday on the road. The Jackets Emma Cate Barron scored on a penalty kick with just eight seconds remaining in the second overtime. SEB improves to 7-6 overall and 4-2 in region play. SEB hosts Statesboro Friday with the girls starting at 5:00. The boys are 3-8-2 and 2-6 in region play.

The Statesboro girls are currently the No. 2 seed in their region with an overall record of 9-6 overall and 7-2 in region play. The boys are coming off a 1-0 win over Greenbrier and are 7-7-2 overall and 6-3 in region play where they are in third place. The Blue Devils host Ware County in a makeup game Thursday with the girls at 5 p.m. and the boys at 7 p.m. 

SHS boys prevail

With less than 15 minutes remaining in a scoreless game, Brayden Bembry was in the right place at the right time as he was able to score off of a corner kick to give Statesboro a 1-0 lead that they would hold on to as the Blue Devils upset Greenbrier to move into second place in region play.

“In our 7-0 loss to them we did not play well at all, so it was just cleaning up the little things and making sure we do what we needed to do. Tonight, we played as a unit, we played as a team and I’m super proud of these guys.”

Statesboro (7-7-2, 6-3) is now tied with Bradwell in the region, but Head Coach Jared Simonin said the Blue Devils should be in second place with only one more region game left on the SHS schedule.

In addition to excellent goalkeeping from Creighton Horst, Statesboro saw stellar defensive performances from Benny Stansil and Gage Landing as the Blue Devils handed Greenbrier their first shutout of the year.

The Blue Devils return to action Thursday as they conclude region play with a game against Ware County. That game is rescheduled game from last week that was rained out.