WELCOME — Five days prior to Tuesday’s Central Carolina Conference tournament semifinal, Ledford played lasting softball power North Davidson close, falling by a lone run.

In the rematch on their home turf at Mike Lambros Field, the Black Knights made sure the outcome would not be in doubt this time around. Top-seeded North scored runs in all but one inning, gradually pulling away for an 11-3 victory over the fourth-seeded Panthers.

“We played them well last time and it was a great game,” said LHS head coach Charlie Brown. “But we knew they were going to be ready to go. We battled, and I was proud that we took it seven innings. But they are No. 1 in the conference for a reason. They have great pitching, great defense, they hit the ball, and they have great coaching. When you have all of that, you have a No. 1 team.”

Needing a comeback over the late innings in the last meeting, the Black Knights gave starting pitcher Abby Craver immediate run support this time. A solo run in the first was followed with a two-spot in the second to provide a 3-0 cushion.

Ledford needed a response and got one, though they didn’t record a hit in doing so. Chloe Everhart worked a one-out walk, then Madison Butcher moved her over 60 feet with a sacrifice bunt. Juli Motsinger then hit a sharp grounder to third that produced a throwing error, allowing the run to score and moving Motsinger up to second.

A pop-up a few feet in front of the plate should have been the third out and ended the threat, but North gifted Ledford another run instead. Nobody took control on the play and called for the ball, as two players collided and the ball dropped safely in to score Motsinger, narrowing the gap to 3-2.

“We scored those two runs without a hit, but I told the girls as long as we put it in play and make them field it, good things will happen,” Brown said. “We did a good job of putting the ball in play, but they did give us some help there with those runs.”

The Panthers were back in it just a run off the pace with momentum on their side. It would not last long.

In the bottom half of the third, a leadoff walk led to a big swing from Alex Gray. She deposited a pitch over the left field fence to quickly get both runs back. The Black Knights were not done yet in the inning. Three more hits led to a trio of runs to stretch the lead to 8-2.

It was not what Brown had hoped for after his team had trimmed it to one in the previous half inning.

“What we needed to do was hold them right there because we had life. Give North credit. They are an outstanding team.”

Craver carried a no-hitter into the fourth before Haylee Smith broke it up with a single. Ledford would get two more hits off of her in the fifth to add their final run. Everhart doubled and Motsinger’s single up the middle plated the run.

North scored twice more in the fifth, while Craver put an exclamation point on the festivities in the sixth with a towering solo home run.

The loss dropped LHS to 7-6 for the year.

For Brown, just getting the opportunity to play this season was special. COVID-19 wiped out the season a year ago.

“I am proud of how they battled all season,” he said. “I am sad for our seniors right now, but I’m excited for all of them that they got to have a season. My philosophy going into this season was I was going to make sure we were going to have fun, because last year this time we weren’t having fun. This group was great to coach and they loved each other. It was so much fun.”