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Thanksgiving is a time to gather with family.

The Northern softball team, a family all their own, gathered around their head coach, family and supporters with a piece of jewelry on hand just two days before Thanksgiving.

Itís one thing to win the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference as well as the Class 3A South Region championship, but to win the 3A state title five years straight, a first for the state of Maryland, and be recognized before Congress by U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md., 5th), well thatís an entirely new concept for the Northern softball team.

Northern head softball coach Robert Earl Radford spoke from the podium on Nov. 20 at the ring ceremony, saying that some thought the 2012 season may be the end of the Patriots dominance with the young team, but he and his team took great pride in proving people wrong. The team finished 25-0 overall, 12-0 in the conference.

ďIt really is amazing. I feel very fortunate to be a part of it,Ē Radford said.

Postseason play began on May 14 with a 4-0 win over Thomas Stone in the 3A South Region quarterfinals. Two days later, the Patriots defeated Chopticon 10-1 in the regional semifinals. The team had to get past one more familiar foe, the teamís undeniable rival in Huntingtown, for the regional championship on May 18.

Sophomore pitcher Jess Cummings battled down and was able to get two batters to fly out in the seventh inning and she struck out the final batter. It was Lindsey Schmeiserís solo home run in the fifth inning that enabled the Patriots to win, 1-0.

On May 22, Northern defeated Reservoir of Howard County 7-2 in the 3A state semifinal at Bachman Softball Park in Glen Burnie. For the state championship, Northern shut out Linganore of Frederick County 10-0 on May 26 at the University of Maryland Robert E. Taylor Stadium in College Park and did what no other softball team has done in history by winning five consecutive state titles.

Members of the 2012 squad were Erin Adams, Sabrina Beil, Sarah Bennett, Kailin Case, Caroline Clarry, Jessie Clemons, Cummings, Allison Garzone, Samantha Gatton, Kayla Grantham, Baylee Hutchinson, Julie Keleti, Kristina Lozupone, Madison Marinaccio, Carleigh Ruleman, Kierstie Schaefer, Schmeiser, Marleigh Smith and team manager Qyntia Parks-Lewis.

Radford was clear in stating that he wasnít going to speak about next season. He wanted to strictly enjoy the moment with his team and honored guests. Alumni from past years came out in support and Vice President of Athletics Trey Sirman congratulated the 2012 team and handed them each their rings. Official game announcer Jon Leavitt read aloud the congressional honor that was presented by Hoyer before the Congress on May 30.

Radford reflected on the hard decision to go with a younger squad in 2010 as he and his coaches cut juniors and seniors and kept freshmen in the hopes of teaching them what it meant to become part of a winning program at Northern.

Radford and his staff would have a couple years to build the team. He said he never could have prepared his team for such pressure after the fourth consecutive state title in 2011. The 2012 team had just two seniors and just three players in the field that were on the 2011 state championship team.

ďThese girls really are [great],Ē Radford said after the ring ceremony. ďTheyíve worked so hard over the years and it makes you feel good when you have players come back and want to be a part of this. It makes the night really special.Ē

Cummings, the starting pitcher who played with her sister Danni on the 2011 state team, was so excited when she was told in school that their rings were in. She also said that sheís kept in touch with former starter Kaitlyn Schmeiser.

ďI got one last year, but obviously there was KK [Kaitlyn Schmeiser], which was an awesome experience just to watch her and to learn from her,Ē Jess Cummings said. ďThis year is so exciting. It feels good to know that Iíve actually done something to earn it. KK and I have definitely Facebooked and texted and sheís best friends with my older sister [Danni]. She knew when I needed real advice and she knew when I just needed a laugh.Ē

Smith joined the Schmeiser sisters at the University of Maryland and said this ring makes three for her.

ďIíve got my little collection now,Ē Smith said. ďIíll keep it forever and ever. Iíll always remember how a team can do something so great after working so hard. Itís really special; not everyone can say that theyíve done something like this. Thereís nothing stopping them [the team] from doing what weíve done five years before, absolutely nothing. Iíll be in the stands watching them.Ē

Ruleman was happy to prove all the naysayers wrong in 2012. She said she is her biggest critic but believing in oneself is what itís all about. She said she never imagined the state championship win would come down to a 10-0 score, but once they got their bats going, they knew there was no turning back.

ďItís always good to have some memory of being on that field,Ē Ruleman said. ďOf all the people that said we couldnít do it, itís good to just look down at my finger and know that I have something to remember everything that this experience has given me, especially three [rings]. Itís amazing. Iím thankful for Mr. Radford. Heís always been there to pick me up when I needed it most and our team chemistry, itís great. Weíre all good friends and thatís why weíre successful.Ē

tshowalter@somdnews.com