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Claxton girls, ECI battle for Final 4
Claxton's Nyeisha Kirkland, center, maneuvers between Portal defenders Chandelier Morgan, left, and Shiann Hagins during the fourth quarter of Claxton's 64-55 on Monday in the opening round of the GHSA Class A public state playoffs. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    CLAXTON — For all the pressure of a deep run into the state playoffs, things are looking like they always do for the Claxton girls.
    Not only are the Lady Tigers (24-5) staying calm and reserved during their second straight trip to the Elite Eight, but their list of opponents continues to be full of familiar faces.
    While other classifications divide region members that advance to the state playoffs, the power poll which decides the Class A bracket doesn’t have the same sort of separation.
    That quirk in the postseason process led Claxton into a showdown with Region 3-A rival Portal in Monday’s first round matchup. The Tigers emerged victorious and — thanks to No. 4 seed Dooly County being upset in its opener — will now face another region foe as Emanuel County Institute comes to town tonight for a 6 p.m. tip-off.
    The Lady Bulldogs (16-7) dropped a 49-41 decision to Claxton on Dec. 14. ECI had little trouble in the region after that, winning the west sub-division.
    “It’s interesting how things worked out,” Claxton coach Laura Aziz said. “It’s great to be able to play at home and not have to take a long bus ride. It’s also a little bit easier to prepare for a familiar team instead of having to look for tape on a team that we’ve never seen before.
    “But there’s also some concern. (Emanuel County) gave us a good game last time. They have really been getting hot, so we know we’ll be facing a different team.”
    Regardless of the familiarity between teams, it’s obvious that both have the same goal.
    A win tonight will advance either team to Savannah for Saturday’s Final Four matchup against either Towns County or No. 1 seed Randolph-Clay.
    Claxton spent the majority of the regular season in Randolph-Clay’s spot at the top of the poll. Only a loss to Calvary Day in the Region 3-A championship game cost the Tigers the top seed in the state playoffs.
    Aziz said that there isn’t a chip on her team’s shoulder, but also thinks that her squad has a chance to take the next step after last year’s quarterfinal showing.
    “Our team is pretty well-grounded,” Aziz said. “They’re aware of the (power) poll and know how things work. Having a high seed would have been great, but we know that we have to win, no matter who we play. Sometimes things will just work our right with who we need to beat.”
    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.