PORTAL — A capacity crowd showed up to say goodbye to Portal’s seniors Friday night, but if the Panthers get their way, this won’t be the last their crowd will see them in action.
After clinching the top seed out of its sub-region Tuesday night, Portal added to its momentum, closing out the regular season with a 49-40 victory over Metter Friday.
The Panthers (22-3, 10-2 Region 3-A) entered the night knowing that they had a top seed and a first round bye in next week’s region tournament, but showed up strong in notching one more win before the postseason commences.
Sophomore Robert Lee led the way with 15 points for the Panthers while Stacey Morgan – who has been hobbled with a bad ankle for the last two weeks — chipped in 10 more.
“It’s always good to end the regular season on a good note,” Portal coach Jeff Brannen said. “We’ve battled with injuries all year and are still recovering, but we have been able to find ways to win and can hopefully get a little healthier moving forward.”
For as joyful as the night was, things didn’t start that way.
Portal turned the ball over on four of its first seven possessions and allowed the Tigers (14-10, 7-3) to score the first seven points of the game.
“It was a little bit of an awkward lineup for us with all of our seniors starting the game,” Brannen said. “There were some problems early, but those seniors helped us to a win later on and they deserved to be out there. That’s what senior night is all about.”
After the opening run, Portal came to life.
Shaun Hagins scored the Panthers’ first points at the 3:07 mark of the first quarter to start an 8-0 Portal run before a bucket by Jamal Williams bucket gave Metter a 9-8 lead after the first quarter.
Picking up where it had left off, Portal continued to charge in the second quarter.
Hagins got things started with a 3 before Robert Lee hit a lay-up and converted on his free throw after a foul.
The teams traded buckets in the middle of the quarter, but the Panthers broke out on a 10-4 run to take a 26-19 lead into halftime.
“We were finally able to get our defense right,” Brannen said. “That’s been our biggest thing all season. When we play sound defensively, we can keep teams from scoring and create our own chances.”
Portal may have a bye through the first round of next week’s region tournament, but so does Metter, ant the Tigers were quick to show their resilience and talent coming out of the break.
Two inside buckets from Jamaree Mason and five points from Jacob Weidencamp helped the Tigers win the third quarter and close to within 34-30 heading into the final quarter.
Weidencamp connected on a put-back early in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 34-34, but Portal was too strong down the stretch.
Utilizing long possessions that drained the game clock, the Panthers retook the advantage on an inside bucket from Corey Reese (six points) before Morgan hit two free throws and Lee added another to stretch the Portal lead to 41-36 with just over two minutes to play.
The Panthers followed up the scoring efforts with a pair of impressive defensive stops – a block by Reese and a steal by Corey Walker – and another easy inside bucket by Lee sealed the win for Portal.
Portal will get a few days off before entering into the region tournament. Thursday, the Panthers will take on a yet to be determined opponent for the right to advance to the region semifinals in Millen Friday and also punch a ticket to the GHSA Class-A state tournament.
Lady Tigers 42, Lady Panthers 36
Unfortunately, Portal’s girls didn’t close out their home finale with the same spark.
A pair of wins midway through the schedule are still the only two regular season victories that the Lady Panthers (2-20, 2-10 Region 3-A) have recorded as they fell, 42-36, to the Lady Tigers (2-18, 0-8) in Friday’s first game.
Metter’s Maci Bird and Alicia Kelly led the way with 10 points each, and Josamae Brown chipped in with nine of her own.
As has been the case all season, Portal put up a fight, but couldn’t find enough down the stretch to come out on top. After trailing 24-9 at the half, the Lady Panthers immediately jumped back into contention.
Shaquisha Hagins — who led Portal with 13 points — and Shiann Hagins (12 points) led a run to open the second half. The pair were in on multiple offensive and defensive plays as the Panthers crawled back into contention, but never got back to even.
With the Metter lead trimmed to 26-22, Bird’s 3-pointer gave the Tigers the cushion they needed to close things out. Metter’s defense was able to force five turnovers in the fourth quarter and keep the Panthers at arm’s length as the Tigers held on for the win.
The Lady Panthers close out their regular season tonight at 7:30 p.m. as they travel to Twin City to take on Emanuel County Institute.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.