PORTAL— Over the last few years, any showdown between the boys of Claxton and Portal has been likely to hold plenty of Region 3-A significance and almost guaranteed to be a nip-and-tuck matchup.
The Portal Panthers (20-3, 8-1) earned a rare breather in the series, starting out hot and holding a solid lead throughout the contest on their way to 65-44 win Tuesday night.
Stacey Morgan (22 points) hit on all four of his field goal attempts — all of which came from behind the arc — in the first quarter. Morgan flirted with foul trouble for the rest of the first half, but stellar performances from Trent Thomas (14 points), Robert Lee (9 points) and Harrison Sherrod (9 points, 12 rebounds) took care of business for the Panthers.
“We definitely played a solid game tonight,” Portal coach Jeff Brannen said. “I think we were a little fortunate. Claxton had an emotional game last night. It probably helped that they had to turn right around and play us.”
Thomas matched Morgan’s early hot streak. The Panther forward connected on a pair of 3s and netted eight total points in the first quarter.
Claxton (10-12, 4-6) tried to respond in the second quarter. Jaki Thompkins scored eight of his game-high 15 in the period, but — even with Morgan on the bench — Portal was able to maintain a comfortable lead.
The Panthers built a 32-19 advantage by halftime and put the game out of reach with a 7-0 run to begin the third quarter.
Late in the period, Thomas put an exclamation point on the region win, gathering a steal near midcourt and finishing with a reverse two-handed slam dunk.
“I feel like we’re playing really well right now,” Brannen said. “Of course you want to be playing well at this time of year.
“I think we’re lucky. We’ve got a good group of seniors who have played together for four years and have a ton of game experience. That really helps when the games get more important late in the season.”
Without fear of foul trouble putting the game in jeopardy, Morgan hit the floor to begin the fourth quarter and drained another 3-pointer, along with a floater in the lane and a put-back off of an offensive rebound.
Before long, Portal emptied its bench as it easily ran out the remaining time on the clock.
Portal currently sits at No. 2 in the Class A public school power poll, which will determine seeding in the upcoming state playoffs.
The Panthers can clinch the top see out of their sub-region with a win over Savannah Christian Thursday night.
Lady Tigers 50, Lady Panthers 28
Claxton’s girls notched a huge Region 3-A win over Calvary Day Monday night and built off of the momentum, cruising to a 50-28 victory over Portal Tuesday night.
The Lady Tigers (21-3, 8-1) never let their opponent into the game.
Claxton was led by Taylor Fiveash (12 points) and Devonna Brewton (11) while seven other Tigers scored points in the contest.
Portal (10-13, 3-6) put up a good fight against the Tigers last month in Claxton, but couldn’t stay within striking range Tuesday night. Leading scorer Breyonna Raymond was limited to just seven points while a trio of 3-pointers by Tia Hagins led the way for Portal.
The Portal boys and girls will celebrate Senior Night Thursday as the Panthers host Savannah Christian. Claxton will honor its seniors Friday as Tattnall County comes to town.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.