MILLEN — Portal controlled the second and third quarters before withstanding a rally to notch a 56-52 victory over Metter Wednesday evening in the second round of the Region 3-A tournament.
Trailing 44-33 entering the final quarter, Metter made a wild dash for the finish. The Tigers ripped off a 9-1 run to get back into the game and even took a lead on Ryan Sparks’ 3-pointer with 2:40 to play, but the Panthers — perhaps shocked back into reality from losing the lead — bounced back to reclaim the advantage.
With 25 seconds to play, a James Gunn free throw got Metter within 55-52. Portal threw away the ensuing inbounds pass, but got a second chance when Devin Byrd traveled with 15.1 seconds to go.
After being fouled with 8.4 seconds left, Jamie Hagins missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but got his own offensive rebound. Fouled again, he hit one of two free throws to put Metter away.
The win clinches a spot for the Panthers in the GHSA state tournament and sets up a region tournament semifinal date with Jenkins County Friday night in Savannah.
“It feels good to be back in (the state tournament),” said Portal coach Jeff Brannen. “We took a year off, but this is where we want to be. We still have a couple of games to go get in region though.”
Things were relatively quiet in the early going. With the two teams having squared off twice in the regular season, the old rivals eased into the game’s early minutes, looking for any new tactics.
A 3-pointer and a driving layup by Stacey Morgan (18 points) gave Portal a slim 11-7 lead late in the first quarter, but a Byrd jumper and a layup by Preston Perry with 14 seconds to go tied the game after the first eight minutes.
“We knew this would be a tough one,” said Brannen. “Metter got us twice during the regular season and they’re a good team. It was close all the way and could have gone the other way if a few shots turn out different.”
After Byrd (12 points) gave Metter its first lead with a layup and Ryan Sparks (10 points) extended it to 16-11 with a 3, Portal went to work.
Hagins connected on a put-back before drilling a 3 following an offensive rebound of Robert Lee’s missed free throw.
Morgan and Corey Reese each found easy shots inside before Isiah Rich put back another offensive rebound and Hagins hit another 3.
Byrd responded with a 3 of his own just before the first half buzzer, but Portal still carried a 26-20 lead into the break.
Jenkins County 61, Claxton 55
In postseason basketball, anything can happen.
The Region 3-A tournament wasted no time in driving that point home as top-seeded Claxton was upset by No. 4 Jenkins County 61-55 in the opening game of Wednesday’s second round action.
After racing out to a 37-27 lead at halftime, the Eagles carried a nine point lead into the fourth quarter and held off a late charge to earn a spot in the GHSA state tournament and send the tournament favorite Tigers home early.
“It’s tough to go out like that,” said CHS coach Eric Bluestein. “You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Jenkins County. They played hard and disciplined. We just couldn’t quite get the job done.”
Down low, Tyrone Brown was a dominant force early on. The senior scored 15 of his 23 points in the first half to help the Eagles gain the edge.
“Once he got going, it was tough,” said Bluestein. “We slowed him down more in the second half, but it was a little too late.”
With the win, Jenkins County is assured of a spot in the state playoffs and will face Portal Friday night at Savannah Country Day in the Region 3-A semifinals.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.