PORTAL — After last year’s loss in the Elite Eight, the Portal Panthers are back in the state playoffs looking for another run deep into the tournament with this year’s squad.
That journey begins tonight at the Panthers (20-7) and the seventh seed in the Class A playoffs face the tenth-seeded Vikings of Taylor County (16-12) with tipoff set for 6:30 in the Portal gymnasium.
“There are no bad teams left,” said Portal Head Coach Jeff Brannen. “You reach this stage with the final 16 and every team left is a good team.”
The Vikings finished tied for fourth in region 4-A with a 10-6 record in region play, including three losses by a total of eight points to the tournament’s second overall seed, Greenville High School.
Portal is led offensively by Trent Thomas’ nearly 19 points per game. Thomas is one of four Panthers averaging in double figures this year as the Panthers averaged almost 70 points a game.
“Trent’s our guy in the paint,” Brannen said “He’s very athletic and the other guys feed off of him when he’s playing hard and playing well.”
While the offense and the flow of the game may flow from Thomas, Brannen was quick to point out the Panthers are far from a one-man band. Akeem Oglesby (14.2), Tyler Budgett (12.1) and D’Von Moore (10.2) give Portal the depth of scorers that other schools don’t always have.
“In high school basketball, a lot of times you might have two main scorers. We’ve got four so on any given night if one guy is off, the other guys can carry the scoring for the team.”
Taylor County, meanwhile, plays a similar style to Portal. Brannen said they both want to play a fast pace game where they press, force turnovers and get out on the break. In fact, Brannen described the Vikings as a “carbon copy” of the Panthers.
Both teams average more than 60 points per contest.
The Panthers come in to tonight’s game having won 10 of their last 12 but lost their last game against Calvary Day in the 3A tournament that likely cost the Panthers a higher seed in the state playoffs. This is the third consecutive year the Panthers have won 20 or more games
Tonight’s winner will face the winner of the aforementioned Greenville and Lanier County on February 25.