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Portal gets a leg up on Claxton
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Portal's B.J. Prescott, left, and Claxton's Blake Stroud grab for a loose ball and endup with a handful of Portal forward Ronald Williams' leg during a second quarter scramble Tuesday.

    At the beginning of the season, plenty of naysayers counted the Portal Panthers out after losing a sizeable senior class the year prior. The Panthers started the 2015-2016 season in a slump, losing seven of the team’s first 10 games.
    However, Tuesday night’s 63-58 victory over Claxton is indicative of how the Panthers have played as of late. Portal is currently tied with Mitchell County for the No. 17 spot in the GHSA Class-A boys basketball power ratings.
    The Panthers need to finish in the top 16 at the end of the region tournament, scheduled for Feb. 10., in order to advance to the state playoffs.
    “The guys are battling and we’re working towards the big prize which is the region tournament. Its been a rollercoaster season and we’ve gone on a little winning streak,” Portal boys head coach Jeff Brannen said after the game.
    Portal (13-10, 9-3 Region 3-A) wrapped up its regular-season region schedule Tuesday.
    Team chemistry and gaining valuable varsity experience has helped some of the younger players on this year’s Portal squad as of late.
    Freshman Connor Washington and sophomore Ronald Williams combined for 14 points, scoring seven each against Claxton. Artavious Thomas ended the night with nine points as well as Malik Williams.
    B.J. Prescott finished with a team-high 15 points while senior Darius Huff scored 14.
    Defensively, Ronald Williams had a breakout performance by blocking 10 shots in the game. Coach Brannen said he has never had a player in his coaching career block 10 shots in one game.
    Despite Ronald Williams’ effort on defense, a lack of defensive assignments allowed Claxton to come back into the game after trailing by as many as 11 points.
    The Tigers began to make a run in the fourth quarter down 49-38. Claxton went on an 8-2 run to cut Portal’s lead to 51-46 with just under six minutes left to play in the game.
    “We have to compete every possession. Tonight we had breakdowns on defense. We didn’t adjust. We let Claxton get too much dribble penetration and didn’t cover the backside,” Brannen said. “That’s something we haven’t done all year. We usually do a good job in man-to-man defense, but today you have to give Claxton credit. We have to get more consistent.”
    Claxton cut Portal’s lead to as little as three late in the fourth quarter. After a made basket by Claxton, Huff put his football skills to work by throwing a deep pass to Thomas, who caught the ball in stride and hit a layup to give the team a 60-54 lead with under a minute to play.
    Huff would later hit a couple of clutch free-throws to put the game out of reach for the Tigers.
    Portal will play in their last game of the season against Wilkinson County, Friday. Wilkinson County is currently ranked No. 2 in the GHSA Class-A boys basketball power ratings.

Lady Tigers 50, Lady Panthers 29
    Against Savannah Country Day Jan. 23, the Lady Panthers came from behind to win 34-32 after scoring just two points in the first half.
    Taking on a talented Claxton (14-9, 6-5 Region 3-A) team Tuesday night was a different story.
    The Lady Tigers jumped out to a big lead early and easily kept Portal at bay to the tune of a 50-29 victory.
    Only four players scored for Portal Tuesday night against the Lady Tigers.
    Breyonna Raymond led the way for Portal (8-16, 5-7 Region) with 16 points followed by Chandalier Morgan’s eight-point performance. Arieanna Wiggins scored four points for Portal.
    Claxton’s Ikeria Brown finished the day with a game-high 28 points. Brianne Sneed and Bryanna Griggs both finished the night with eight points each.
    In the first matchup of the season, Portal lost by just two points to Claxton by a score of 56-54.
    “We’ve had a rough stretch,” said Claxton girls head coach Laura Aziz. “Portal gave us everything we could handle at our place. Breyonna Raymond and Chandalier Morgan just ate us up. We reminded (our players) all week about that. I think we did a good job on them today.”
    Portal’s defense had trouble stopping Claxton’s leading scorer. Brown sparked the Lady Tigers’ offense in the second quarter. Brown scored eight of Claxton’s 14 points in the third.
    The Panthers tried denying the ball against Brown, trapping and using a double team.
    “We’ve seen so much on her all year. We’ve seen a box-and-1, we’ve seen them double team, we’ve seen man. Doesn’t mean we’re good with it, but we’ve seen so much this year I was worried for awhile because (Portal) scored 25 against us in the fourth quarter. We told them not to let up.”
    At halftime, Claxton led Portal 27-9. The Lady Panthers opened up the third quarter with back-to-back buckets from Raymond to cut the lead to 27-14.
    Claxton answered back by ending the quarter on an 11-3 run to put the game away for good.
    Lady Panthers head coach Tendai Haggins said a lack of intensity and awareness on defense led to Portal’s defeat.
    “We didn’t come to play tonight. There was no intensity. No desire. No get-up-and-go,” said Haggins after his team’s loss. “If you let a player score 30 points against you, it’s going to be hard for you to win. We have to learn how to play team defense. We were double-teaming and triple-teaming (Ikeria) Brown and she was still able to get to the basket.”
    The Panthers have just one game left in the regular season before the start of the region tournament.
    Haggins said if his team’s intensity level doesn’t improve, it may be an early exit.
    “We have to learn how to play for four quarters. When they shut down our leading scorers we need other players to step up and score,” Haggins said. “Someone has to be able to step up and do the fundamentals. We have to go back to the drawing board tomorrow and work on the small things.”
    Portal’s last game of the season will be this Friday against Wilkinson County.