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The softball players who played on the Class 3A state championship team at Northern last season have been wearing a championship ring since Thanksgiving.

Now a new season dawns, and the Patriots are hoping to earn another piece of gold come late May, but the team is taking it one step at a time.

Northern head softball coach Robert Earl Radford and his coaching staff has led the Patriots to five consecutive state titles. U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) honored the team for being the first softball team in Maryland to accomplish the feat.

Radford said he felt honored to be a part of the ring ceremony. He said this season should be exciting.

“We are going to have to work extremely hard to get better every practice,” Radford said. “Every game will serve as a report card.”

The season gets underway Friday when Northern travels south to take on Patuxent, which reached the 2A South Region championship game last spring.

Junior Jessica Cummings, the starting pitcher for the Patriots, said she’s looking forward to the season and likes what she’s seen so far at the scrimmages. She also never gets tired of looking at her ring.

“It’s a constant reminder that hard work does pay off,” Cummings said. “I like it. It’s humongous. Between summer travel ball and now, I didn’t play in the winter and all I want to do is play softball. We’re looking good. We have two freshmen on the team. There’s just so much talent here.”

Cummings said none of the success would be relevant without Radford.

“He spends so much time for us,” Cummings said. “Whether he’s preparing the field, lining it, dragging it. He’s always on the field. This year, we also have two former players helping on JV. That shows that they want to see this program succeed.”

Cummings said the team is taking it one game at a time and that as long as they are improving with each game, they will succeed.

“It’s definitely in the back of our minds,” Cummings said regarding another state title. “Our goal is to finish with a win on the softball field at the University of Maryland [site of the state championships]. We’re nowhere close to where we need to be yet. It’s not the main reason we play, but it is a [long-term] goal. I’d also like to strike out 300 batters this year.”

Cummings will have the same starting catcher this season, senior Kristina Lozupone. Lozupone said she knows the work ethic of Cummings and that 300 strikeouts is possible for her.

Lozupone squeezed a foul pop-up to end last year’s state championship game against Linganore. She said she will never forget that moment.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. That may never come around again,” Lozupone said. “I’m very excited for the season. I started calling Jess’ pitches last year and will call them this year. We have good chemistry. We’re good friends. We also have Bailey Hutchinson pitching. This is her first year on varsity. She did well on JV. I’ll catch for her too.”

Lozupone remembers Radford’s choice to go with a younger team a few years ago in the face of controversy.

“It would be nice to go out with another state win and finish out my four years,” Lozupone said. “It would finish what KK [Kaitlyn Schmeiser] and that group started. We’re not all hyped up about it. We can’t just go through the motions. We can’t look too far ahead. Jess is more prepared this season. She already knows how to handle the pressure after seeing the teams we need to face.”

Radford has elected all of his seniors as team captains, and among them is starting third baseman Erin Adams.

Adams, who leads by example, reflected on her senior year and knows each game has even more meaning this year.

“I’m really looking forward to getting better as a team and really making a team connection,” Adams said. “I think the new players are showing that they want to be here. They’re working hard. There was a huge difference between last week’s scrimmages and this weekend’s. This weekend, we were more aggressive, and our chemistry came together more. Sherwood was more difficult for us.”

Adams said the team’s offense is strong.

“I know we lost ‘Lu Lu’ [Lindsey Schmeiser], but our offense looked good. We just need to get some of the little things out of the way.”

tshowalter@somdnews.com