PORTAL — In a showdown between a pair of region rivals who both made the Class A Final Four last season, it was clear which school had peaked and which is looking for even more this time around.
Portal stormed out of the gate to take a 36-21 lead over Jenkins county after one half of play and never had its lead threatened, coasting to a 57-43 victory Tuesday night.
With the win, the Panthers improved to 10-2 overall and are 2-0 in region play as they pursue a third consecutive Region 3-A championship.
“We played a pretty good game, but we still have plenty that we can improve on,” Portal coach Jeff Brannen said. “We know that we’re going to get everyone’s best shot this season. We have to know that and be prepared every night.”
Stacey Morgan and Trent Thomas once again teamed up to form an inside-outside force that was tough to control. Morgan connected on three 3-pointers and led all scorers with 19 points while Thomas scored 14 – most of which came in the paint and from the free throw line.
Portal and Jenkins traded jumpers in the opening minutes, but Morgan was fouled on a made 3-pointer from the left corner and made the ensuing free throw late in the first quarter to give the Panthers a 20-14 advantage after the opening eight minutes.
The Panthers continued to inch ahead in the second quarter as Morgan drilled a deep 3 and Harrison Sherrod battled inside for six of his eight points.
“I thought we came out pretty strong,” Brannen said. “We did a lot of good things early on to get out to a lead. We just need to work on keeping it up for all four quarters.”
The Eagles (1-10, 0-2) upped their defensive pressure and kept the Panthers from pulling away in the third quarter with some help from a trio of put-packs by Trenton Drayton (9 points). Jenkins County trimmed the lead to 10 points before back-to-back 3’s by Thomas and Tyler Budgett put Portal firmly back in command.
Jenkins County continued to limit easy looks for the Panthers in the final period, but equally good defense from Portal prevented the Eagles from having a chance to get back into contention.
Lady Eagles 38, Lady Panthers 35
Portal’s girls erased a halftime deficit, but came up just short as Jenkins County wrestled away a 38-35 win in the final minutes of Tuesday’s opening game.
The Lady Panthers (6-6, 1-1 Region 3-A) battled back from a 24-19 hole at the break and took a 31-29 lead on a jumper by Breyonna Raymond (13 points) with 4:28 to play.
Jenkins County (2-8, 1-1) regained the lead for good with 35.7 seconds to go when Jennifer Sanders (8 points) corralled an offensive rebound and connected on a putback.
Amber Branch hit a pair of free throws to bring the score to 38-35. Amanda Harden missed a pair of free throws with 4.9 seconds to play, but recovered the rebound off of her second miss to take away a final chance for the Panthers to tie.
“I think that we might have gotten too comfortable,” Portal coach Cliff Hubbard said. “We won three straight, but now we’ve lost a couple. That’s not what good teams do. I think we are a good team, but we have to stay focused and win the games we know that we can win.”
The Portal boys and girls are back in action Friday night as they travel to Savannah Christian for another sub-region tilt.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.