SAVANNAH — Portal rode a strong defensive effort and Cory Reese’s 21 points to a 52-44 win over Jenkins County Friday night at the Country Day School gym.
The win, the Panthers’ fourth of the season over the Eagles, puts Coach Jeff Brannen’s team in the Region 3A championship game where they will face the winner of Friday night’s Calvary Day-Montgomery County game tonight at 7:30 p.m.
“We’re so close (to Jenkins) and we know everybody,” Brannen said of the matchup with the Eagles. “We knew it would be tough to beat them.”
The win did not come easy as the smaller Panthers struggled early before breaking the game open in the third period.
Portal outscored the Eagles 13-5 in the final three minutes of the first half for a 29-21 lead at the midway point, and then closed the third period on a 9-0 surge to take control of the game.
“Our game plan was to try and increase the tempo,” Brannen said. “We couldn’t sit down low and let them lob the down inside to the big guys.
“We don’t have their size,” Brannen said. “Overall I was pleased with our defensive pressure.”
The Panthers held a slim 31-25 lead when freshman Stacy Morgan hit consecutive baskets to trigger a quarter ending 13-4 run similar to the way the second quarter concluded.
Reese had a direct hand in the final three baskets, scoring twice and coming up with a steal and feeding Corey Walker for a layup in the closing seconds.
Jamie Hagins added 11 points for the Panthers, and Morgan had eight.
“All year we’ve been a balanced scoring team,” Brannen said. “We normally have three or four guys in double figures which makes it more difficult to key on a single guy.”
Arkedus Kelly gave Jenkins a glimmer of hope when he opened the fourth quarter by kissing a 3-pointer in off the glass, but Reese squelched any Eagle thoughts of a rally as he scored six straight points.
When Jenkins County coach Mark Whitt called for a time out with six minutes, 28 seconds left it was 50-32, and although the Eagles rallied it was too much to overcome.
After breaking the huddle following the break the Eagles scored 12 straight points, the final basket coming with 12 seconds left.
“Overall I was pleased with our defense,” Brannen said. “About the only negative was at the end of the game we had a couple of turnovers that they converted. We need to do a better job of taking care of the ball in those situations.”
Portal did not play Calvary Day in the regular season and split with Montgomery County.
Tyrone Brown led the Eagles in scoring with 10 points while Kelly added nine.