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Ledford girls clinch MPC title

WALLBURG | There’s hardly been a game this season that has seen the Ledford girls go down to the wire, but the Panthers found out something about themselves in Friday’s narrow 46-41 Mid-Piedmont Conference victory over Southwestern Randolph.

They can hit free throws in the clutch.

The Panthers swished 10 of 13 foul shots in the final 3:38 to hold back the Cougars and clinch no worse than a tie for the regular-season conference title.

Ledford is now 8-0 in the league, 19-3 overall, while the second-place Cougars dip to 6-2 in conference play, 16-4 overall. Ledford has a two-game lead with two to play. Even if the Cougars managed to tie Ledford, the Panthers swept the season series and would hold the tiebreaker.

“We’ve been good in our games to make free throws all year long,” said Ledford coach John Ralls, whose team has been winning regularly by 20 points or so in league play. “So it was good to be in a game like this.”

It didn’t start out to be a very promising night for the Panthers, who fell out of the gate to trail 10-4 after the first period.

“It was not our best night,” noted Ralls. “We were probably fortunate that (Southwestern standout Kaila) Craven was unable to play.

“It was one of those things where you’ve got to gut it out. It was almost like a nightmare game where everything that can go wrong goes wrong,” said Ralls. “It’s like you’re not ready to play, they (SWR) shoot the ball well, they were outhustling us, they were outworking us.

“But we held on and got enough stops in the second half.”

Ledford held a slim 26-24 lead in the third period, but then the Cougars went on a 9-2 run into the fourth period to take a 33-28 lead.

Ledford fought back to trail 33-31 when Emmalee Thomas drained a 3-pointer with six minutes to go in the game, putting the Panthers ahead for good at 34-33.

Leigh Ann Midkiff hit a shot with 3:53 to go as Ledford went up 36-33, then came the stretch of clutch free throws, with Brianna Grier hitting 6-of-9 shots and Thomas going 4-for-4 from the stripe to seal the deal.

“It was a tough game,” said Ralls. “And to our credit, we handled adversity well.”

Thomas ended up with 16 points and Grier finished with 11.