When the 2012-13 season began, the Portal Panthers had just one Final Four appearance in school history and were coming off of back-to-back first round exits in the state playoffs.
Fast forward just over 15 months and the Panthers are on the verge of a return trip to the state semifinals.
Along for the entirety of that wild ride has been senior guard Marquise Wells. During Tuesday night’s first round game, he made sure not to revert to Portal’s old habits. Wells scored 10 points — including a pair of baskets in a decisive fourth quarter rally — to lead the Panthers to a 64-51 victory over Stewart County.
“We want to go out with a big bang this year,” Wells said. “Last year we were excited to get to the Final Four, but we were let down. We’re trying to get it back this year.”
Wells has been a valuable role player for Portal and has elevated his game as the contests get more important. Wells’ efforts played a big part in an exciting comeback win over Savannah Christian in the Region 3-A tournament before his big game against Stewart County.
“Coaches told us to step up,” Wells said. “That’s what I tried to do. I’m going to do whatever I can to help our team go as far as we can.”
Wells and the Panthers will try to punch their return ticket to the Final Four tonight as they travel to Turner County.
Claxton’s Nyeisha Kirkland has made countless big plays for her team this season, but none have been as vital or thrilling as a simple layup off the glass.
That shot registered two of Kirkland’s six points in Wednesday’s game against Emanuel County Institute. Of more importance was that the shot rolled around the rim and dropped in with just 4.7 seconds left, giving the Lady Tigers the decisive points in a 55-54 state quarterfinal victory.
“It happened really fast,” Kirkland said. “I just got the ball and put it in.”
Kirkland’s role was just as big – if not as dramatic – in Claxton’s opening round win earlier in the week.
Squaring off against region rival Portal, Kirkland exploded for 26 points. Kirkland notched 18 of her points in the second half, turning a potential upset into a relatively easy win.
“I wasn’t really paying attention to how many points I had,” Kirkland said. “I kind of knew I was having a good night. Late in the game, my teammates kept making plays to get me open and get me good shots. They just kept going in.”
Kirkland now has a chance to shine on the biggest stage she’s ever played on.
Thanks in large part to her last-second heroics, she and her teammates now head to Savannah for Saturday’s state semifinals.