Ledford’s legacy and memories of 1991 South View season live on
By Earl Vaughan Jr.
While it may not be remembered as the greatest state championship team Cumberland County has ever produced, the 1991 state 4-A baseball winner from South View was the first in a string of championships at the school. It started the Tiger program on a run of successes seldom seen by any other local high school.
It had been 30 years since the late Randy Ledford led what’s been described as a close-knit group of friends who were loose off the field and serious on it to a 26-3 record and a sweep of the 4-A title series. The Tigers defeated a Kernersville Glenn team that was unbeaten and nationally ranked before the finals began.
Left-handed pitcher Brian Ford, who went on to earn Hall-of-Fame status at Methodist University and took the Monarchs within a game of a national championship, was the star of the team, along with top hitter Pat Barber.
Ford compiled a 14-0 record that included winning five of South View’s six state playoff games that year. Known for his control and a curveball he could throw for strikes in any situation, Ford had a 0.45 earned run average and recorded 213 strikeouts in 108.1 innings.
“I learned very fast, very young that you need to fill up the strike zone,’’ Ford said. “Percentages are they are not going to get hits every time. If you pitch to contact, it lessens your pitch count.’’
Tiger assistant baseball coach Kim Cain said that control was the secret to why Ford was able to pitch so often. “He didn’t go deep in the count,’’ Cain said. “I don’t think he ever hit the 90s (in velocity) and he had a curveball that would fall off a table.’’
Ford said he also stressed using his legs more than his arms when he pitched. “I drove off the mound,’’ he said. “My legs were as sore if not more sore than my arm was.’’
He also tried to start the first few innings at what he called about 75 or 80 percent, getting stronger as a game progressed.
Barber, along with second baseman Marvin Johnson, provided most of the offensive spark. Barber batted .422 to lead the team. He also led in hits, RBIs and homers.
He gave much of the credit for the team’s success to Ledford. “He never let you have false expectations, and he let you have fun as long as you stayed within certain limits,’’ Barber said. “He had to keep us in check because we could all get a little crazy.’’
Cain agreed the 1991 Tiger team was a fun-loving bunch, but added they also knew when to get serious.
“Randy was the glue that held it together,’’ Cain said.
Memories are fuzzy as to whom the Tigers lost that season. Everyone agreed one of the defeats was a game with Lee County that lasted 13 innings. Lee finally won 4-0 on a grand slam after Ford left the game in the 12th. The two pitchers combined for 45 strikeouts, and the game was mentioned in USA Today.
The consensus is the regular-season losses in conference play came to second-place Seventy-First and most likely a late defeat to Pine Forest when Ledford started a number of reserve players before heading into the postseason.
In the state playoffs, the Tigers opened with a 13-0 win over Raleigh Enloe, then downed perennial 4-A baseball power Greenville Rose 6-2.
The Tigers hit the road for a pair of one-run wins, 2-1 at Anson County and 3-2 at Apex.
“That Anson County game was the toughest game we had in the playoffs,’’ Barber said. “We got lucky.’’
After beating Anson and Apex, the Tigers returned home to host the 4-A title series with Glenn at J.P. Riddle Stadium. The N.C. High School Athletic Association recently announced state championship baseball will return to Riddle at the end of June when it hosts two of this year’s four title series.
After beating Glenn 3-2 in the first game of the best-of-three series, South View coasted to an 8-3 win in the second game to clinch the championship.
Both Ford and Barber are currently high school baseball head coaches, Ford at North Johnston and Barber at Mallard Creek. Both say Ledford is a primary reason they are coaching today and the lessons he taught them are still a part of what they teach their players.
“He made us men,’’ Ford said. “He literally taught me as a person how to enjoy the game off the field. But when it became time to play, you had to flick that switch.
“That’s the difference between good and great players. The great players are the ones that flip that switch when they get on the field and go after it.’’
Barber was even more direct. “Ledford is the reason I coach now,’’ he said. “I give back what he gave to me.’’