Ledford tennis falls to Northern Guilford
If only it could split its singles matches, the Ledford girls tennis team had all the confidence in its doubles teams to win two of three matches.
But the Panthers, challenged in a trio of hard-fought matches, couldn't quite make that happen in falling 6-3 against visiting Northern Guilford on Tuesday in the second round of the NCHSAA 3A state playoffs.
Ledford (19-2), the top seed from the Mid-Piedmont, lost two of the matches at Nos. 3, 4 and 5 and, forced to win all three doubles matches, couldn't rally late. The Nighthawks (12-2), the top seed from the Mid-State, advance to face either Eastern Wayne or Cardinal Gibbons.
“This is the epitome of what every coach dreams about, as far as a team concept,” longtime Panthers coach Randy Grimes said. “Just the family aspect, the never giving up, the constant battle, the love for each other. They pick each other up, cheer for each other. That's as good as it gets.
“(We needed to) outlast them,” he said of Northern. “They're a good team. We knew they beat Union Pines last week shorthanded, and we lost to Union Pines 5-4 and gave them all they wanted. We were tickled to have Northern Guilford here … and if I were going to lose, that's the type of team you really don't mind losing to.”
Ledford's Taylor Freeman cruised to a 6-1, 6-1 win against Colleen Link at No. 1 singles, but Katie Wilson fell 6-1, 6-2 against Channing Herring at No. 6, and Elizabeth Stroup lost 6-3, 6-4 against Carson Kilpatrick at No. 2.
Emma Caroline Russell also fell in a third-set tiebreaker, 2-6, 6-3, (6-1), against Kelly Wardman at No. 4, as Sarah Richardson at No. 5 and Erin Crotts at No. 3 fought into third-set tiebreakers as well to keep their team's hopes alive.
Richardson clawed back to beat Cindy Kim, 6-4, 0-6, (6-3). Then, with the sun fading into a chilly evening, Crotts fell in the final two games of the tiebreaker, 6-2, 3-6, (7-5), in a grueling match against Annie Jakubek that lasted two and a half hours.
But Ledford kept fighting. It kept fighting, even after Jakubek-Wardman beat Crotts-Russell 10-4 at No. 2 doubles to seal the match. Freeman-Stroup then beat Link-Kilpatrick 10-5 before Kim-Herring edged Richardson-Wilson 10-7.
“A lot of times, at the end of a season, I'm really sad,” Grimes said. “But this whole team pretty much operates with my No. 1 rule: We hate losing a lot more than we love winning. And obviously, at Ledford, we love winning. Fortunately, we win most of the time.
“But this has to be my favorite team I've ever coached at this school. What you saw at court 3 — the match's been over for 20 minutes, and those girls never let up. They played just as hard for the last point as hard as the first. That's all a coach can ask for — period.”
Although their dual-team season is over, the Panthers do have two doubles teams — Freeman-Stroup and Richardson-Wilson — that will compete in this weekend's 3A individual state championship at the Burlington Tennis Center.
On Friday morning, Freeman-Stroup will face Cardinal Gibbons' Natalie Freeman and Summer Jacobs, while Richardson-Wilson will take Gibbons' Devin Knors and Lizzie Galush.