Ledford girls battle Harding in regional semifinals
The Ledford girls, over the last couple years, know all too well how challenging it is to reach the regionals. With a good, talented team last year, they fell in the second round to eventual state champion Harding University.
So, while they do have loftier goals still ahead, the top-seeded Panthers are enjoying the moment of reaching the regionals for the first time since 2003. They will face — once again — second-seeded Harding in the regional semifinals tonight at 8:30 in UNCG’s Fleming Gymnasium.
“I’m really happy for our kids,” longtime coach John Ralls said. “They put in a lot of work. Some of them come in and do workouts in the mornings. They come in and shoot. They’ve all played spring ball and played in the fall and in our program over the summer. So, they’ve put some time in.”
Led by five seniors — Emmalee Thomas, Leigh Anne Midkiff, Sydney Stroud, Jada Bell and Sam Miller — Ledford (26-3) has pieced together an outstanding season, going 10-0 in the Mid-Piedmont Conference and winning the MPC tournament while playing some of their best basketball of late.
During the playoffs, Ledford has ground out tough wins against A.L. Brown, Berry and North Iredell, which it views as good experience and preparation for the road ahead, said Ralls, who has led the program to 11 regionals. So, what has been its keys for making it this far this year?
“We didn’t play Harding in the second round of the state playoffs this year,” he said with a chuckle. “But we’ve grown up, and that’s helped. We take care of the ball a little bit better. We play great defense, and they’ve really battled and played with a purpose.
“We’ve had some balanced scoring, we’ve handled the ball pretty well, and defensively we’ve been pretty tough,” added Ralls, who recently surpassed 700 career wins. “Those have been our constants. That’s good — we bring that about every night. The other stuff comes and goes.”
The Panthers hit a bit of an inconsistent stretch in December, culminating in a loss against Southeast Guilford, which is in the 4A regionals, in the finals of the NewBridge Bank Christmas tournament. One day shortly thereafter, during the middle of practice, the players and their coach decided it was time to get everyone on the right page.
“I’m trying to get them to believe that the loss to Southeast Guilford was a bad loss — but it wasn’t,” Ralls recalled with a laugh. “And we had to have a little ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting, and we talked things over. Since then, we’ve really got focused on what we’re doing.”
Coming off last year’s meeting, Ledford has a decent idea of what lies in store against the Rams (21-4). Still, they have a talented 10-player rotation that has been very successful this season playing strong defense, handling the ball well and shooting well on offense.
“We know they’re good, well-coached,” Ralls said. “They’re going to be tough to beat. We’re going to have to hang onto the ball better than we did last year. We made way too many turnovers. And we have to be able to defense. They have some really good kids who will be tough to defend.
“That’s going to be the challenge — hang onto the ball, shoot the ball well. We’re going to have to play well. And defensively we’re going to have to play one of the best defensive games we’ve played all year.”