Ledford girls fall to Harding
The Ledford girls ran up against a team that was too quick, too efficient — too good.
Second-seeded Harding University opened the game strong, leading by 20 in the first half, and held off every advance in beating the top-seeded Panthers 62-44 on Thursday in the NCHSAA 3A regional semifinals in UNCG’s Fleming Gymnasium.
“They dump-trucked us in the first half,” Ledford coach John Ralls said. “We probably stayed in man-to-man probably a quarter and seven minutes too long. And I don’t know that it would’ve made a difference tonight what we did. They played really well. ...
“They’ve got a lot of pieces to the puzzle. They shot the ball well from outside tonight, they took it to the rim, and they rebounded. They just beat us in every phase of the game. They took us behind the woodshed and wailed on us for a while.”
Senior wing Emmalee Thomas scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Panthers (26-4), who struggled from the get-go against the Rams’ agile, seamless zone defense that forced turnovers and tough outside shots and quickly turned them into easy baskets.
Senior post Leigh Anne Midkiff also had eight points and five rebounds while sophomore guard MacKenzie Cranford added six points.
“I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to have played with anybody else,” senior wing Sam Miller said of the season. “This team has become my family. I wouldn’t give it up for anything. That’s really what this season was about — becoming a family.”
Myicha Drakeford scored 18 points to lead reigning 3A state champion Harding (22-4), which forced Ledford into 18 turnovers and held it to 38.6 percent shooting. Brianna Hamrick also had 14 points and eight rebounds while Abrea Harris had 12 points and Ralisha Currence had 10 points.
“In our offense, we usually try to have five or six options,” said Rams coach Anthony Jones, who was very complimentary of Thomas in his postgame comments. “We’re not like Miami, where you know you’re going to LeBron. Or the Celtics, where you know it’s going through Kevin (Garnett).
“We’ve got it to where everybody’s going to get a touch, and whoever’s man isn’t doing their job, that’s your opportunity. So, we try to set it up like that, and it’s a blessing to have four people in double-figures. That’s kind of rare, but when you get that going, that means we’re playing some good basketball.”
Harding scored 11 of the game’s first 13 points, stifling the Panthers in both fullcourt and halfcourt defenses, to help lead 21-10 after one quarter. Then, after Ledford cut it to eight early in the second, it scored 12 straight to lead by 20 with 1:51 left and led 35-19 at halftime.
The Panthers (26-4), who reached the regionals for the first time since 2003, did open the second half on a 9-2 spurt to cut it to nine, 37-28, with 4:09 left in the quarter. Harding, though, answered with seven straight to rebuild its double-figure lead for good.
The Rams will play Tuscola, which beat Franklin 52-46 in the early game, in the regional final Saturday afternoon at 3:30 in the Greensboro Coliseum Special Events Center.