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COLLEGE PARK – Prior to Saturday afternoon's Class 3A softball state championship game, Northern Patriots head coach Robert Early Radford told his team there were three things he wanted them to do during its showdown with the Linganore Lancers.

In order, Radford told them to breathe, be confident and to just have fun.

“I said the team that goes out there today and has fun is going to win this,” Radford said.

The Patriots certainly looked to be having a lot of fun when it was over, celebrating on the diamond at the University of Maryland after defeating their Frederick County opponent by a 4-2 margin. The championship marked the seventh in a row for the Northern program, which now boasts 11 overall, both of which are state records.

While the game's conclusion ultimately ended the same as the previous six years, the journey to get there was markedly different. Through the previous six state championship games, Northern (23-2 overall) had not allowed a single run, outscoring its opponents 38-0. On Saturday against Linganore (20-2), it took the Lancers only four batters to put an end to that streak, as Madison Ambush's double to the left-field fence drove Devan Puhl across the plate with the game's first run.

The Patriots answered in the inning's bottom half, as leadoff hitter Kassidy Cross got on base, stole second, took third on Natalie LaPlaca's groundout and scored on Micaela Cummings' single to right field. Aidan Coughlin, running for Cummings, later scored the go-ahead run on a Sam Gatton grounder that the Lancers booted.

Rachel Daugherty led off the bottom of the second with a single, advanced to second on Allie Garzone's sacrifice and third on a single by Cross before scoring on a Sammy Clemons' groundout to increase the Patriots' edge to 3-1 through two innings.

In the sixth, Michaela Schaefer's single to center drove Kaylee Cross home with Northern's fourth run, providing an extra insurance run. The Patriots actually went on to load the bases with just one out, but were unable to increase the lead any further.

“[Linganore] got one in the first inning and that was the first we've given up [in any of the state finals],” Radford said. “It was important for us to answer back in the bottom of the first, which we did. We had plenty of opportunities. I thought in the bottom of the sixth we were just going to blow it open. We didn't, and give Linganore a lot of credit. They did not quit.”

Following the first inning, Northern pitcher Jess Cummings cruised relatively easily until the fifth. The Lancers were able to put runners on the corners in that frame, but Cummings struck out Katelyn Kosar to escape the threat unscathed.

After striking out the side in the sixth, Cummings surrendered a leadoff double to Casey Golombieski to open a dramatic final half-inning. Golombieski later scored on Kennedi Ambush's infield hit to cut the Northern lead to 4-2 with runners left on second and third and just one out.

Cummings responded with a strikeout of Kosar to pull the Patriots within an out of another championship. Madison Ambush, who was 2 for 2 with a walk on the day, was then walked to load the bases and bring Lauryn Lovewell to the plate.

Cummings came through with a strikeout, her 11th of the day, to bring an end to the threat and seal Northern's seventh straight championship.

“We were just going to get her,” Cummings said of the final at-bat. “At that point I knew I had her. [Madison Ambush] had put the ball in play and hit it hard every time. Coach decided we were going to walk her. After that I had no choice but to get [Lovewell]. Whether she put the ball in play or struck out, I knew we had her. The defense was ready to get her. At that point we knew we had the game. We were getting that out.”

In Cummings' mind, the Patriots' ability to do the little things correctly made all the difference in what turned out to be the most dramatic state final the team has been involved in during the current streak.

“Definitely not the best game I've ever thrown, probably up there as one of the worst, statistically, of my high school career,” she said, “but we got it done. Every opportunity where we needed to get something done, we got it done.

“We talked about it at the end of the last game. We were in the situation we were in because we didn't get the little things done. This time the reason we were in this situation is my team was still able to get it done even when I wasn't throwing my best was because we did the little things. We made the little plays. We got it done when we needed to get it done.”

After struggling offensively in the state semifinals against Harford County's C. Milton Wright, creating scoring opportunities was not an issue in the state final. Seven different Patriots had hits in the game. Micaela Cummings had two hits, while Kassidy Cross reached base safely three times to energize the offense.

“It's so great. It's even greater than last year. Last year being my first one it was just out of the blue. Now that we did it again I'm so happy,” said Cross, one of the team's seven sophomores. “A lot of people didn't think we were going to win this year. I had 100 percent confidence we were. I'm so happy.”

For Northern's five seniors, the championship provided a sense of relief, as well as pride.

“It's really nice to know that we could still get it done,” senior Caroline Clarry said. “No one wants to be known as the class that didn't get it done. Whenever someone comes up and asks I can say, 'Yeah, in my time in high school I got a ring every year.' it's pretty cool.”

Gatton added, “It was really good to finish off with a seventh title. We didn't want to be the class that didn't get it done. We worked really hard the entire season and got it done.”

Garzone thought that the team's confidence was what got it over the hump when the chips were down against Linganore.

“Honestly I think we just believed in ourselves more than we have all season,” she said. “We had a lot more confidence in each other that we were going to get it done when we needed to get it done. I think it spoke for itself that we could do it and we did, and it's a really nice feeling to know that we're the team we know we've been and believed we've been all season long. We finally showed it today.”

While the expectation brought on by six consecutive state championships is obvious, reaching the ultimate goal was far from an easy process for the team, which started five sophomores this season.

Northern opened the season not only with the state championship streak, but also with a 76-game winning streak that also stands as the longest winning streak in the state's history. That streak ended at 77, but the weight of the expectations was still a heavy burden for the players to manage.

“It wasn't easy,” Radford said. “Everybody says you've won seven in a row, but this year we had five sophomores, a couple of juniors. These kids, the pressure they had with the streak that went away and now to win another one, it's not been easy for these kids. These seniors, I'm so happy that they're able to go out with a win, that they're able to continue winning the last game of the year at the University of Maryland.”

astates@somdnews.com

Northern 4, Linganore 2

Linganore 100 000 1 – 2 7 4

Northern 210 001 X – 4 10 0

WP Cummings, LP Kosar

Extra-base hits: 2B – M. Ambush (L), Golombieski (L)