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Panthers eke out 5-4 tennis win over Central

Central Davidson’s Ashley Rhodes returns a volley on her way to winning her match against Ledford’s Elonah Jones on Monday afternoon. (Photo by Donnie Roberts/The Dispatch)

WALLBURG | Exhausted from a grueling loss in a marathon singles match, Ledford’s Elizabeth Stroup found a second wind.

In the biggest match of the day, she got by with a little help from her friends.

With the match deadlocked at 4-4, Stroup and Logan Allen won at No. 3 doubles to lead the Panthers to a 5-4 victory over Central Davidson in the season opener for both teams at Ledford on Monday.

Ledford coach Randy Grimes was relieved to get the win against a game Central team that beat his squad twice last season.

“Coaches actually prefer to coach matches like this, especially the first one,” Grimes said. “We were challenged today in every match, that’s why I love playing Central Davidson.

“We’re always evenly matched, always good tight matches. I told the girls today I was pretty sure it was coming down to doubles, and, of course, it did.”

Central coach Jennifer Cayer would have rather pulled out of Wallburg with a win. But she wasn’t too disappointed, considering one point here or there could have spelled a different result. “I’m proud of what the girls did,” she said. “Playing Ledford always lets me see how our team’s gonna be for the rest of the season.

“Finishing 4-5 with Ledford, I still feel comfortable with how the girls did.”

Freshman phenom Taylor Freeman got Ledford off to an impressive start with at 6-2, 6-1 victory over Tori Rhodes at No. 1 singles.

Emma Carolina Russell held off Abigail Penninger 7-5, 6-1 at No. 5, and Allen toped Aimee Sink 6-1, 6-2 at No. 6 singles for Ledford.

But in the meantime, Ashley Rhodes fought past Elonah Jones 4-6, 6-1 (10-6) at No. 2 singles, and Megan Hedrick eased past Erin Crotts at No. 4 singles 6-4, 6-3. That left Ledford clinging to a 3-2 lead with Stroup and Kacy Surratt battling it out in the final singles match.

Surratt won the first set 7-6 (7-5), then won the second set 6-4. Stroup was clearly slumping, unable to get a first serve in and struggling to get shots in that she clearly expected to make.

The No. 2 doubles team of Ashley Rhodes and Hedrick rolled past Crotts and Russell at No. 2 doubles 8-1, giving the Spartans a shot at victory. But Freeman, a 6-foot-2 freshman who Grimes says is the first freshman he’s started at No. 1 singles in his 17 years with the program, was simply too much to handle. She and Jones fought off Tori Rhodes and Surratt 8-4 to even the match back at 4-4, once again leaving Stroup on the court in the only match being played.

This time was different than the first. Throughout the match, she and Allen gelled to make several nice shots, and burst into laughter on several occasions. Their chemistry was apparent, and the lighter atmosphere seemed to put Stroup in a comfort zone.

“Elizabeth is just so tough, she’s mentally tough,” Grimes said. “It was a very, very hot day, and it was the first match for all the girls.

“But she told me she was determined to win at that No. 3 doubles, and I told her it could very easily come down to that match. And they were mature enough to pull out the win.”

After bolting to a 6-3 lead, Penninger/Sink won two straight games to cut it to 6-5. But Stroup/Allen put the match away by winning the next two games for an 8-5 victory.

Ledford visits Wheatmore on Tuesday, while Central travels to Randleman on Wednesday.

Jason Queen can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 220 or