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The unforgettable season has been over for a few weeks now and the accolades continue to pile up for the Northern softball team.

Sophomore pitcher Jess Cummings was recently named Gatorade Player of the Year.

“I know there’s so many good people in this area from some good teams that could have gotten it, so I think it’s a huge honor to get it,” Cummings said. “Obviously, it’s a reflection of our whole team because without the plays [they made] I wouldn’t have the stats I did that helped me get it. I was extremely surprised, it wasn’t even a thought in my mind.”

In addition, shortstop Lindsey Schmeiser was named All-SMAC Most Outstanding Player and the team was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation, according to the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association High School poll.

“We’re honored, there’s no question we’re honored with those people’s opinions,” Northern head coach Robert Earl Radford said. “It goes back to what we always talk about; the little things like go to practice everyday and get better and try and improve yourself and then the big things take care of themselves and I think this is one of those big things that took care of itself and which is like icing on the cake.”

Northern won its 53rd straight game with a 10-0 win over Linganore of Frederick County in the Class 3A state championship game, their state-record fifth straight championship.

Along the way, the Patriots defeated softball powerhouse Bishop O’Connell High School of Virginia and won nine games by run-rule. The Patriots were 25-0 overall this year.

Cummings stepped into the pitching shoes of fireballer Kaitlyn Schmeiser, who is now at the University of Maryland College Park, and took baby steps on her way to developing her craft. Those steps turned out to be giant.

The 5-foot-8 sophomore posted a 20-0 record with an 0.38 ERA and 260 strikeouts in 128 innings pitched. She threw six no-hitters, including three perfect games and held opponents to an .090 batting average. In 35 postseason innings, she allowed two earned runs on 13 hits with 57 strikeouts, including a four-hitter with 15 strikeouts in the state final.

Perhaps her most impressive outing was a 10-0, five-inning nonconference win over Chopticon on March 23 in which she struck out all 15 Braves she faced.

The Gatorade award is no stranger to Northern after Kaitlyn Schmeiser was awarded it last season. McDonough ace pitcher Melanie Mitchell won the award in 2009.

“She was supposed to be the heir apparent [to Schmeiser], but to win it as a sophomore is just exceptional,” Radford said of Cummings. “She clearly has all the tools and she’s a work in progress; she's going to get better and she’s going to learn. The other thing I think helped her was she had a good defense behind her, so when she didn't always strike the batter out, we were able to make the plays behind her.”

A painful way to learn

Cummings has put the hurt on opposing hitters, but it was who she had to endure some pain from when she found out she’d won the award at the team’s recent year-end banquet.

“All season whenever she’d get excited, ‘Lulu’ [Lindsey Schmeiser] would punch me,” Cummings said with a laugh, “and as soon as they started reading [the congratulatory] letter, she punched me in the arm. It was more of a love punch, I guess, but she doesn’t realize how strong she is. It just showed how excited she was for me.”

Cummings was quick to give credit for her success to older sister Danni, pitching coach Jill Callaway, her defense and especially catcher Kristina Lozupone.

“Oh, of course,” Cummings said when asked if Lozupone played a pivotal role in her success. “If you have no one to throw to, there’s nothing you can do. If she wasn’t helping me back there throw strikes and calling pitches and just being there mentally, there’s no way I would have gotten it.”

Cummings said that she would like to throw more pitches harder and with more accuracy.

“There’s always room for improvement,” she said. “I don’t think I’m even close to where I want to be. Not even close.”

Schmeiser had an outstanding season. She batted .641, had an on-base percentage of .723 and slugged .978. She led the team in hits (59), runs (49), doubles (13), triples (3) and total bases (90) and tied for the team lead in RBIs (34) and home runs (4).

“I say this all the time that ‘Lulu’ and Jess, their work ethic is second to one, so I’m not surprised at their level of success,” Radford said. “I'm very happy for them because you like to see kids who work hard get rewarded.”

In the NFCA poll, the Patriots were ranked No. 3 according to the June 4 poll after having reached No. 2 the week previous. Keystone (Ohio) High was No. 1 with a 32-0 record and Norco (Ca.) High was second with a record of 31-2. Porter Ridge High (N.C.) and O’Connell were fourth and fifth, respectively.

“O’Connell [was ranked] fairly high when we beat them,” Radford said, referring to a 2-1 win over the Knights on April 14, “and when that happens, it gets you national notoriety and propelled us to where we ended up.”

Cummings, Schmeiser and Kierstie Schaefer received All-SMAC first-team selections, while Radford was named All-SMAC Coach of the Year.

The Patriots will lose Schmeiser who is headed to play softball at the University of Maryland College Park as well as first baseman Marleigh Smith to graduation but return the rest of the team, including Cummings who will undoubtedly wreak havoc again in 2013.

“If you know Jess, she's a perfectionist, so she's going to work hard to try and get better,” Radford said, “and with that being said, I feel sorry for the [SMAC] conference because they're going to have to deal with her.”

@$:mreid@somdnews.com