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Raiders shut down Ledford

WALLBURG | Ledford’s softball team got going almost every inning Friday night, they just couldn’t finish.

As a result, the Panthers’ season is finished.

Despite putting the leadoff batter on base each of the first six innings, Ledford stranded seven runners and suffered a 3-2 loss to North Iredell in the first round of the 3-A playoffs.

The Raiders slipped to the No. 3 seed from the North Piedmont Conference when Carson won the conference tournament, and Ledford coach Charlie Brown knew this wouldn’t be a typical first-round matchup for the Panthers, who finished second in the Mid-Piedmont Conference. “This game right here was two excellent ball clubs,” Brown said. “This was a second-, third-round type game.

“They finished second in their conference, and so did we. North Iredell is an outstanding team.”

North banged out eight hits and laid down a parade of excellent bunts against Ledford’s Meg Everhart, making her first start in over a month due to an injury. The Raiders threatened in the top of the first, loading the bases with two outs. But Everhart struck out Lindsey Coley looking to get out of the jam.

She couldn’t work that magic again in the second. Shelby Summers singled to left with one out, then Alaina Dennis bunted down the third base line. Bayleigh Griffith bounced her throw to Mackenzie Cranford covering first, putting runners on the corners. Breanna Davenport followed with a ground out that plated Summers, and Payton York ripped a double to score Dennis.

That put the visitors in front 2-1 after Ledford scratched for a run in the bottom of the first. Destiny DeBerry drew a leadoff walk in an 11-pitch at-bat, stole second, then scored when Everhart slapped a single up the middle. Ledford could have done more damage, but right fielder Baylee McKenzie snagged Mackenzie Cranford’s liner right on the right field line for the third out.

North Iredell got what turned out to be the decisive run in the top of the third. Lacey Fox, the North pitcher, led off the inning with a base hit to left. Savannah Trivette advanced her 60 feet with a sacrifice bunt, and Fox went to third when Everhart’s third strike to Coley went wild, allowing Fox to move to third and Coley to reach first. Kaitlyn Marshall then grounded out to short to score Fox, making it 3-1.

Ledford inched closer in the home half of the fourth, when Cranford led off with a single to left and moved to second on Griffith’s bunt. Megan Hayworth scored Cranford with a bloop single to left, but York — playing second base — put the brakes on the threat with a leaping grab of Madison Tinkle’s line drive.

Coupled with McKenzie’s grab in right field, Brown acknowledged how well the Raiders played in the field. “They played good defense,” Brown said. “That was a nice play in right, and I thought second made a couple of nice plays.”

Ledford had multiple chances to tie the game, coming up short each time. DeBerry reached on a bunt single to lead off the fifth, stole second and moved to third on Erin Crotts’ bunt. But Fox retired Ashley Best and Everhart, leaving the tying run 60 feet short. Cranford singled and moved to second leading off the sixth, but she too was stranded. And Mary Davis came through with a two-out, pinch-hit single in the bottom of the seventh, bringing Best to the plate. But she grounded out to first to end the inning, and the Panthers’ season.

Ledford finished 15-9.