The last time the Portal Panthers played Jenkins County they had to overcome a 12-point fourth quarter deficit and managed to score the final 15 points of the game in beating the Eagles 48-45 in Millen. On Saturday the two teams met in the region championship and with Jenkins County leading by eight points, the Panthers used an 18-0 third quarter run to build a lead and ultimately walk away with a 59-55 victory.
“Like I have said before, you can throw the records out when we play each other because you know it’s going to be a grind it out game,” said Portal coach Jeff Brannen. “We really put pressure on them on the defensive end and that changed the game. I am proud of these guys for the way they played in the second half and for winning the region.”
Jenkins opened the game up 10-0 and the Panthers trailed 28-21 at the half and were only in the game thanks to 10 first half points from Joseph Thomas and nine points from Elijah Coleman.
In the second half the Panthers switched from a zone defense to man-to-man and started attacking the rim. The strategy paid off as the Eagles struggled to score on offense and committed multiple fouls on defense. Portal was 15-18 from the line and outscored Jenkins 23-4 in the third and decisive quarter.
“The first half we were mainly in our half-court offense but the second half we got more into the transition game,” said Brannen. “We get to standing around too much in our half-court offense and are much better running up and down the court. Our thought was to try and trap in zone defense but we went to man-to-man and that really worked much better.”
The Eagles trailed by as many as 10 points in the third and made a late run to get within four points in the fourth. The Panthers got a few baskets down the stretch from Chandler Grooms — who had nine second half points — and went on for their second straight region title.
“Our core guys were freshmen last year when we won the region,” said Brannen. Now they are sophomores and they have another title under their belt. Give Jenkins County credit they play hard and really crash the glass and are a good team. We really need to come out and start things off in state by playing four straight quarters. We can’t keep taking a quarter off here and there anymore.”
Thomas led the Panthers with 20 points while Coleman had 19 and Grooms chipped in with nine. Up next Portal will host Quitman County (16-13) Wednesday at 7:00.
“With the win tonight, we know we have at least one more home game to play,” said Brannen. “We don’t know much about Quitman County but we will get to working on them Monday and if we are able to win Wednesday, we would get another home game which comes from winning the region title.”
Elsewhere in high school basketball the Statesboro Blue Devils captured the region title Friday against Effingham County and will open the state tournament Wednesday at 5:00 as they host North Atlanta (11-11).
The Statesboro Lady Blue Devils won the region consolation game Thursday night against Glynn Academy and will travel to No. 4 ranked Langston Hughes (22-6) Tuesday at 6:00 in Fairburn.
The Bulloch Academy Gators defeated Dominion Christian 66-30 Friday night and were led by Armani Cooke with 19 points and Kacie Ricketts with 18 points. The win put the Gators into the GISA Final-4 and they will take on Trinity Friday at 7:15 in Americus at The Storm Dome at Georgia Southwestern.