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Panthers finish strong in region quarterfinals

Region Tournaments
Saturday's Scores
Region 3-A

    Portal 76, Savannah Christian 73

    Claxton 76, Montgomery Co. 40
Region 1-AAA

    New Hampstead 51, SEB 44

Region 3-A
at Soperton (Treutlen County)
4:30 p.m (Boys)

    Portal vs. Wheeler Co./Jenkins Co.
6 p.m. (Girls)
    Portal vs. Claxton
Region 3-AAAA
at Augusta (Butler)
4 p.m. (Girls)

    Statesboro vs. Richmond Academy

    SOPERTON —Throughout the first three quarters of Saturday’s Region 3-A tournament quarterfinal between Savannah Christian and Portal, it seemed as if Savannah Christian could do no wrong.
    Of course, it takes more than just some of a good game to bring down the top-ranked team in Class A.
    The No. 1 Panthers didn’t play their best basketball of the season, but they were at their best when they needed it. Trent Thomas’ free throw with 5:21 to play gave Portal (23-3) its first lead of the day before the Panthers held on down the stretch for a 76-73 victory.
    Portal briefly gave up its late lead when the game’s deciding sequence occurred at the 2:06 mark.
    Trailing 61-60, Stacey Morgan (17 points) was fouled and Savannah Christian (12-13) was assessed a technical foul for disputing the call.
    Morgan made both free throws stemming from the original foul, drained two more off the technical foul, and put a dagger in the Raiders with a deep 3 on the ensuing Portal possession.
    “We knew that nothing would be easy,” Portal coach Jeff Brannen said. “It’s extremely difficult to beat a team three times in one season. Luckily, we were able to play pretty well down the stretch to get the win.”
    Early on, it was Savannah Christian that was making all the shots.
    The Raiders connected on nine of their first 11 attempts from the field, including a pair of 3s from Bryce Edwards (26 points). Portal played a tough, swarming defense, but the Raiders used constant motion and were able to use pass after pass to eventually set up wide open looks in the paint.
    Savannah Christian led by as many as 12 points and carried a 41-32 advantage into halftime.
    The Raiders’ execution was part of the early story, but a seven day layoff — in part due to winter weather postponing two days of the tournament — had the Panthers dragging.
    “It looked like we were going through the motions early,” Brannen said. “Savannah Christian is a tough team and I give them a lot of credit, but it looked like we just weren’t really where we needed to be.”
    Midway through the third quarter, Robert Lee (21 points) sparked the Panthers, accounting for all of the points in a 7-0 run that drew Portal within 44-41. Edwards responded with another jumper and a pair of free throws to maintain a 50-43 lead after three quarters.
    Trent Thomas (18 points) notched field goals on consecutive possessions beginning the final period to cut deep into the Raider lead.
    Thomas tied the game at 52-52 with a two-handed jam at the 6:12 mark, but was whistled for a questionable technical foul for hanging on the rim, allowing A.J. Sanders to regain the Savannah Christian lead with a pair of free throws.
    Morgan was held to just two points in the first half, but took over in the game’s waning minutes.
    After scoring his seven points off of the multiple fouls and 3-pointer that spurred the Panthers ahead, Morgan knocked down four more free throws as the Raiders began to foul down the stretch.
“Stacey really stepped up,” Portal coach Jeff Brannen said. “He made some big shots down the stretch when we really needed him.”
    Never letting up, Edwards canned another 3 with just under a minute to go and Nick Bateman (15 points) hit from long range to keep it a one-possession game with 17.2 seconds left.
    With 9.4 seconds to go, Harrison Sherrod stepped to the line for Portal and hit his first free throw to make it 76-73. Sherrod missed the second and most of the remaining time ran off as both teams scrambled for the loose ball.
    Edwards ended up with possession, but was only able to manage an awkward heave that fell short as the final buzzer sounded.
    Portal now advances to the semifinals where it will face either Jenkins County or Wheeler County on Monday at 4 p.m. – once again at Treutlen High. One more win will give the Panthers an opportunity to play for a third consecutive Region 3-A crown in Tuesday’s championship game.

Claxton 76, MCHS 40 (Girls)
    The top-ranked Claxton Lady Tigers (22-4) cruised into the Region 3-A semifinals with a 76-40 win on Saturday against Montgomery County.
    Keri Brown filled up the stat sheet, recording 20 points, 11 rebounds and 6six steals. Nyeisha Kirkland added 15 points and Devonna Brewton scored 11 points and dished 10 assists.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.