High school softball: Jess Cummings pitches No. 1 Northern to a win over No. 2 O’Connell

April 27, 2013

No. 1 Northern Coach Robert Earl Radford checked on his undefeated All-Met ace and received a typically nonchalant reply before Saturday’s showdown against No. 2 O’Connell.

With the top-ranked teams in the area squaring off in Owings, no pressure weighed on serene junior Jess Cummings.

She told Radford, “I’m good, coach,” before taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning and striking out 16 in a 3-0 victory.

“She’s so calm and so confident in her abilities,” Radford said. “She knows she’s got a good team behind her and all she’s got to do is do her job.”

By extending her record as a starting pitcher to 24-0, Cummings led the way for Northern’s 68th straight win, prolonging a streak that has stood since President Obama’s first term in the White House.

Facing fellow All-Met pitcher, O’Connell senior Tori Finucane, Cummings had no room for error. She retired the first 11 batters she faced, fanning nine in the process, but Finucane induced outs against the first 10 Patriots to walk up to the plate.

“She is just phenomenal,” Cummings said of Finucane. “She’s always phenomenal.”

O’Connell All-Met catcher Jillian Ferraro became the first player to reach base when she drew a walk in the fourth inning. Cummings was not shaken.

With her poise intact, she struck out the next batter. By the end of the inning, Northern (15-0) would hold a 1-0 lead.

“I knew that girl couldn’t score, and that’s all that mattered,” Cummings said. “I didn’t care that she was on base. I just knew she couldn’t score. I knew my team was behind me.”

After striking out the side in the third inning and recording another strikeout to start the fourth, Finucane could not get a pitch past senior third baseman Erin Adams, who struck a single for the first hit of the game.

Pinch runner Kayla Grantham scored on an O’Connell error to give her team a lead.

Senior catcher Kristina Lozupone padded the lead when she smacked a two-strike, outside pitch into the outfield for a two-run single in the sixth inning.

Lozupone said the hit resulted from a Northern practice regimen designed to defeat Finucane. For the past two days, Radford drilled his team on hitting pitches on the outside of the plate.

“I was just smiling because I knew if one of those two runs scored, that was it,” Lozupone said.

In a bout between area softball royalty, both teams might have scheduled the toughest test of the season for Saturday.

Northern has won the past five consecutive Maryland 3A state championships, becoming the only school to accomplish that feat last year. O’Connell (19-1) has won 17 of the past 19 Virginia Independent Schools state titles.

Before the game, Radford and O’Connell Coach Tommy Orndorff both talked about using the game to prepare their teams for pressure situations in the postseason.

“You need to be tested,” Radford said. “You need to have situations where you can draw on that experience when we get to the playoffs. And this is the only way you get it. It’s invaluable.”

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