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Portal Holiday Classic rounds out 2013 games

    PORTAL — The Portal Panthers prepare to send off 2013 in style as they host their annual Holiday Classic beginning today and running through Monday.
    Over the three-day tournament — no games will be played on Sunday — boys and girls teams from nine different schools will provide fans with a total of 18 games. On all three days of action, play is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. and will continue without breaks in the action until all six scheduled games are played.
    “If you like basketball, you need to come out and watch,” Portal coach Jeff Brannen said. “We’ve got a great field and we’re going to be running games all day. I think this is a great way to get everyone excited about a lot of the good basketball that is being played in the area.”
    Both the boys and girls of Portal will be looking for strong showings as the always-challenging Region 3-A schedule looms large at the start of the new year. The Lady Panthers (3-3) face Johnson County, Long County and fellow Bulloch County residents Southeast Bulloch on their tournament slate. The Portal boys (5-1) will take on Worth County tonight before facing Georgia Military and South Effingham on Saturday and Monday, respectively.
    Frequent attendees such as Southeast Bulloch, Worth County and South Effingham will be making their usual appearance in the field. Fellow Region 3-A rivals from Savannah like Calvary Day and Savannah Country Day have come to the Holiday Classic before, but have been replaced this year by newcomers like GMC and Mount Pisgah.
    Portal is glad to welcome in new faces and eager to put on a good showing in its own tournament.
    “We’re just excited to have a lot of good teams,” Brannen said. “Playing a tournament like this gives you the feel of what it will be like in the region tournament when you’re playing talented teams each night. And who knows? Maybe we’ll see a couple of these teams farther down the road.”
    Brannen will keep a close eye on tournament participant Jenkins County.
    The Eagles — who matched the Portal boys’ run to the Final Four of the state tournament last season — figure to be one of the Panthers’ biggest hurdles in their quest for a third consecutive region title. The teams won’t play during the Holiday Classic, but will get good scouting opportunities in anticipation of their region showdown scheduled for Jan. 7.
    The constant grind of a tournament is great practice for teams expecting to be in the thick of region and state playoffs. For schools like Portal who didn’t tip off their regular seasons until the beginning of December, it’s also a final chance to sort out lineups and rotations before the region games — which will determine postseason eligibility — begin.
    The extra experience will be valuable for the Panthers, but there is an added benefit to hosting their own holiday tournament.
    “Kids always get up for these tournaments a little more than regular games,” Brannen said. “There’s even more excitement when you get to host the tournament. I know our kids are eager to get out there in front of big crowds and play their best in front of our fans each night.”

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