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Portal, SEB renew rivalry in hoops
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    The Portal Panthers have a bitter taste in their mouth. Leading by nine points with four minutes left in last year's first round playoff game at Dooly County, PHS faded down the strecth and lost by two.
    "We were disappointed in the way it ended last year," said Portal head coach Jeff Brannen. "I think the kids have seen they can be a good team if all the pieces fit together."
    With five seniors (including injured guard Clayton Williams) and five juniors, Brannen believes the Panthers have the experience and the drive to not only make it back to the state playoffs, but to win a region championship. They'll open their season tonight against a Southeast Bulloch team that lost to Statesboro 92-55 on Saturday.
    The Panthers will be looking to fill the void left by Williams, who suffered ligament injuries to his knee during football season, and Cameron Sheffield, who averaged 13 ppg last season.
    Senior Marquan Jackson is expected to take Williams' place. Jackson has been a two-guard in the Portal sytem, but has worked hard in the off-season to take over at the point. Portal will also look to Fred Williams, a senior who put in 16 points a game last season and amassed over 1500 in his first three years. Keith Washington and Ryan Williams are the other two seniors for PHS.
    The Panthers have made the playoffs three out of the last four years, but Brannen said winning a region championship is a goal that fits within a broader scheme of things.
    "We want to model Statesboro's program," said Brannen. "We've got a good tradition here, but we're tired of finishing third and fourth (in the region)."
    The Panthers will try to mimic Statesboro on the court as well, using a pressure defense to force turnovers and play an up-tempo game.
    In region 3-A, Brannen said the usual suspects of Calvary and Savannah Country Day will be the teams to beat. Out of the region, the Panthers are looking forward to games with Southeast Bulloch, Screven County and the aforementioned Statesboro.
    The Lady Panthers  graduated just two seniors off last year's squad and will also play their season opener tonight.
    This year’s team will feature just two seniors as well, Destiny Oglesby and Rachel Thomas (nicknamed ‘The Stpper’). Head coach Earl Donaldson said he’ll look to them to be the leaders of a Portal team who finished 6-12 last year.
    The Lady Panthers will run a weak-side offset offense and look to match-up on defense, using traps and presses.
    “We want to play hard-nosed defense, be consistent and play as a team,” said Donaldson. “We feel we have a chance to win the ballgame. We know (SEB, 0-1) has a very good ball team, but we feel we match up pretty good.”
    Sophomore Sacona Sheffield and junior Domonique Allen will also be key for PHS.
    Chad Bishop can be reached at (912)-489-9404.