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Panthers give Ralls his 700th career win


WALLBURG | To hear John Ralls tell it, you’d think collecting his 700th career victory was just another night on the basketball court.

“It just means that I’ve been around for a while,” said Ralls, the Ledford girls’ basketball coach who guided his team to a convincing 57-34 victory over Berry Academy of Technology in the second round of the 3-A state playoffs Wednesday night.

Hmm. Well, he is right about the longevity part — this is his 28th season at Ledford, and four of those 700 victories include 2-A state championships.

He seems to be taking serious aim at another one.

The Panthers trailed Berry Academy 12-10 after the first period, but Ledford utilized a particularly nasty man-to-man defense in the second period that held the Cardinals to just three points.

The defense was so stifling, in fact, that Berry was held scoreless four minutes into the third period.

By then, the Panthers were leading 31-15 and had the game in control.

“We’ve been doing that, though,” said Ralls. “We’ve been playing pretty good defense all along.

“We played man most of the time,” added Ralls. “We did a pretty good job when their big man (Milan Quinn, who is averaging 17 points per game) got it. We did a good job of putting people in the paint where she couldn’t put it on the floor, couldn’t turn and do what she wanted to do. Give Courtney (Callicutt) credit — she did a good job on her.”

The Panthers did have some issues holding onto the ball — Ledford committed 21 turnovers in the game — but Ralls noted that most of that was due to the Cardinals’ own sticky defense.

“They’re a pretty good team,” said Ralls.

If there was another element to Ledford’s victory, it was uncanny shooting from 3-point range. The Panthers dropped eight treys for the night, and almost every one of them came in seemingly critical situations that thwarted Cardinal rallies.

Ledford’s Emmalee Thomas, who started off slowly with several misses from long range, ended up with four 3-pointers on the way to knocking down a game-high 19 points. Also, Julia Carroll hit a pair of 3s — one coming when the Panthers held a slim 14-12 edge, and the other coming when Ledford was up 17-15 — to spark the team.

“We hit some big ones,” acknowledged Ralls. “The two Julia hit were big, and then Emmalee hit some that were huge. Even when we had a 16-point lead, we didn’t get conservative or tentative, and that’s good.”

Plus, the Panthers never got rattled.

“They’re resilient, they’re patient and they have belief in themselves,” said Ralls of his team. “They’re not going to get down when things aren’t going well.”

Ledford, now 25-3 overall, will entertain North Iredell on Friday in the third round. North Iredell, 18-7, defeated Weddington 55-50 Wednesday to advance.

Berry Academy, a magnet school out of Charlotte and the Mega-7 Conference, ended its season at 20-8.