ASHBURN — In a rematch of teams that split a pair of meetings in the regular season, Turner County put an end to another playoff run by the Portal Panthers Thursday night.
The Rebels (25-4) used a 12-3 run late in the second quarter to break things open and the Panthers (25-5) couldn’t complete a second half comeback attempts as Turner County posted a 69-61 win in moving on to the Class A public school state semifinals.
Quan Hillman and Nate Martin were instrumental in the Rebels’ win over the Panthers back in December. Those familiar faces struck again Thursday night as Hillman exploded for 23 points and Martin hit a 3 late in the game to help seal the win.
“I feel for our guys,” Portal coach Jeff Brannen said. “It’s tough to play so hard and not win it. Give credit to Turner County though. They’re a very good team. They got us in an early hole and we couldn’t quite get out of it.”
Things couldn’t have been bleaker for Portal as the second half began. The Rebels opened up a 41-27 lead and Trent Thomas (15 points) hobbled to the Panther bench with an injured foot.
Portal certainly played better games throughout the season, but they never played a harder final quarter and a half.
Thomas quickly returned and the Panthers began to chip away.
Thomas, Stacey Morgan (14 points) and Robert Lee all connected on shots within a minute of each other.
Throwing Turner County’s fast-pace, high-pressure scheme back at them, the Panthers clawed within 50-42 after the third quarter.
“We changed up our plan in the second half,” Brannen said. “We were able to keep up our pressure and get some steals. We hit a few shots and got back into it.”
Portal continued to inch closer and Harrison Sherrod’s transition bucket got the Panthers within 55-53 with 3:15 to go.
Just as Portal seemed to have momentum, the Rebels put a stop to things. Martin buried a long 3 and — after a turnover on the ensuing inbounds pass — Iman Holley (10 points) hit a layup to widen the Turner advantage back to 60-53.
“(Martin’s 3) was a big turning point,” Brannen said. “We felt good getting back within two points two points and then (Turner) comes right back. Then we turn it over and give up another basket. That really hit us hard.”
The Panthers never gave up the fight, but couldn’t muster another comeback over the final minutes.
As the final seconds ticked away, so did the careers of a special senior class.
The Panthers will lose five seniors in the offseason, with Morgan and Lee having started on the varsity for four seasons.
“Robert and Stacey have 90 wins,” Brannen said. “Not too many seniors can say that. I’m really going to miss all of our seniors. They’ve been a big part of some great seasons for this program.”
Turner County now proceeds to Savannah for a Saturday matchup against Hawkinsville in the state semifinals.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.