PORTAL — Claxton and Portal have engaged in plenty of nip-and-tuck struggles over the past few years and Friday night was no exception.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a bit anticlimactic.
The Portal Panthers (10-4, 4-1 Region 3-A) nipped at the heels of the Tigers (10-2, 5-0) for the majority of the night. Portal finally pulled even on an Akeem Oglesby baseline floater with 29 seconds to go, but Oglesby was whistled for a foul on Claxton’s Cornelius Taylor with 3.9 seconds to play.
Taylor — who was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer — connected on all of his attempts from the charity stripe and Portal’s final inbound pass sailed out of bounds for a 68-65 Claxton victory Friday night.
The Tigers’ nail-biter of a win serves as just the latest chapter in a rivalry that has delivered almost exclusively close games for the better part of a decade.
“It’s a thrill to win,” Claxton coach Eric Bluestein said. “Any game is good to get a win, but we know we have to earn it against Portal. They’re a good team. A playoff team, for sure.”
Claxton has had plenty of its own success over the last few years, but it is the Panthers who have been to four consecutive Region 3-A championship games — winning three of them.
The Tigers respected their opponent, but weren’t intimidated as they rode some hot shooting to an early lead.
Taylor (25 points) canned three of his five connections from long range in the first half while Zach Grant scored all but one of his 13 points before halftime.
The Panthers trailed by as many as eight in the second quarter. Portal’s normally on-point shooting sputtered early, but D’Von Moore (17 points) single-handedly kept his team in contention with his long range game.
Moore’s three 3’s in the second quarter drew the Panthers close, but Taylor hit from 35 feet at the buzzer to make it 37-30 in favor of Claxton at the half.
“(Taylor) is such a big part of our team and what we can do,” Bluestein said. “He set the tone, but we also got key contributions from a lot of other guys. You don’t win a game like this without everyone playing well.”
In the second half, B.J. Prescott (12 points) started to provide an inside force for Portal. The Panthers’ forward scored his team’s first two buckets of the third quarter and pulled down three offensive rebounds as the Panthers continued to fight.
An inside bucket by D.J. Brewton (10 points) gave Claxton a 57-50 lead in the first minute of the fourth quarter, but Trent Thomas (15 points) responded for Portal with two jumpers of his own, keeping the margin of the contest at two possessions or fewer the rest of the way.
Leading 65-63 in the final minute, Claxton had a chance to put the game away when it forced a turnover, but Taylor was whistled for a layup.
Oglesby made the most of the Panthers’ second chance, but gave Taylor a similar opportunity with his foul on the ensuing possession.
The sting of a loss will be tough for Portal, but a return trip to Claxton is just two weeks away as both teams continue to fight for position atop the region.
Lady Tigers 53, Lady Panthers 19
Friday’s first game lacked the drama of the nightcap as the Claxton girls breezed to a 53-19 victory over Portal.
For Claxton — which is looking for a third consecutive run deep into the Class A playoffs — the issue was never in doubt. The Lady Tigers (11-3, 3-2) steamrolled the Lady Panthers (0-14, 0-5), outscoring their opponents 12-5 in the first quarter and only widening the gap from that point.
Ikeria Brown led the charge for Claxton with 16 points. She was the only Tiger to register double-digits, but eight of her teammates also found the bucket to overwhelm Portal.
The game was blown wide open in the second quarter as Claxton added 20 more points while the Panthers failed to make any more dents in the scoreboard.
Tia Hagins led Portal with six points — stemming from a pair of 3-pointers — and was the only Panther to connect on more than one shot from the field.
Claxton’s boys and girls host a cross-region game tonight as Johnson County comes to town. Portal’s squads will venture out of region, travelling to Dublin to take on West Laurens.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.