The top storylines of the year in prep sports:
5. Portal Pride
With a final record of 3-6-1, this past season wasn’t a banner year for Portal football. The Panthers improved on a rough 2012 campaign, but still fell short of the playoff team they aspire to be.
But for all of the close losses the Panthers endured, one win shines bright.
Savannah Christian has a state title and two region championships to its name over the last five years and had crushed Portal in all five of their previous meetings.
On Oct. 18, Portal found itself with a lead against the Raiders early on. The Panther defense forced four turnovers, including an interception in its own red zone in the final minute, to notch its first ever win against Savannah Christian.
4. Postseason Partying
The girls basketball programs at both Portal and Southeast Bulloch were mired in long ruts as the 2012-13 season dawned.
In order to kick-start things, both schools brought in new head coaches. SEB welcomed in Johnnie Miller — a veteran with a long and successful career at Bryan County. Up in Portal, Cliff Hubbard took over the Lady Panthers in his first stint as a head coach.
The pair might have very different resumes, but both worked wonders for their teams. Miller’s Lady Yellow Jackets fought through their first season as a Class AAA school and two wins in the Region 1-AAA tournament punched them a ticket to the state playoffs.
The Lady Panthers caught fire late in the season and even a tough loss in their region tournament wasn’t enough to keep Portal from notching a high enough rating in the Class A power poll to get a state playoff invitation.
Even better — both teams have picked up where last season left off and seem destined for a return trip to state.
3. Coming up Clutch
Statesboro’s baseball team had spent three seasons watching the state playoffs from afar before deciding that enough was enough.
The Blue Devils advanced into the Region 3-AAAA playoffs in late April, but dropped a 10-0 decision to Cross Creek in the first game of a three-game series.
Needing consecutive wins to get to the state playoffs, Statesboro received back-to-back masterpiece pitching performances from Colin Chance and Jordan Finch. A week later, Chance tossed a 1-0 shutout in Game 3 of the first round of the state playoffs to send the Devils into the second round for the first time in six seasons.
2. Some of Georgia’s Best
It’s one thing to make the top of the area stat leaders each week. It’s quite another to be an individual leader when all of the schools in the state are taken into account.
Bulloch County had a pair of football players accomplish the feat this past fall. Southeast Bulloch running back Tyler Epps was among the top-10 rushers in the state while Portal linebacker Trent Thomas cracked the list for tackles.
Epps rushed for an impressive 1,893 yards and scored 27 touchdowns for the Yellow Jackets. Thomas totaled 149 tackles for the Panthers.
In SEB’s 11 games, Epps was held under 100 yards just once and failed to score just once. Unsurprisingly, both of those games were the opening tilt against Portal — a contest that saw Thomas record 20 tackles.
The top prep moment of 2013 could have easily turned into one of the year’s biggest disasters.
The Statesboro boys basketball team entered its Feb. 27 state quarterfinal against Rutland on a 15-game winning streak and toting both a No. 1 seed and a Region 3-AAAA championship. It was smooth sailing most of the way for the Blue Devils, but a huge Rutland rally turned an 18-point SHS lead into a tie game with 5.1 seconds to play.
With the Rutland crowd at a fever pitch, Statesboro’s veterans reached down and found one more drop of magic to their season.
Yakeem Coleman came down with a rebound and raced the length of the court in just a few seconds. The defense converged, but Coleman dished to Zaquavian Smith at the last second. Smith just barely let go of his shot before the final buzzer, getting the ball through the net and getting the Devils through to the Final Four for the first time in a decade.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.