Individual blades of waxy grass, askew edges of chalked white lines and unpacked dirt particles can’t escape No. 1 Northern Coach Robert Earl Radford’s fastidious attention to detail.
He arrives to the ballpark hours before practices and games to doctor the field. He stays hours after the players leave to maintain it.
In nine years at the helm in Owings, Radford has personally mowed the grass, lined the bases and dragged the field. Meantime, in the last five years, Northern became the first Maryland public school to win five straight 3A championships.
The Patriots have not lost a game since May 3, 2010, pushing their streak to 54-0 after opening the 2013 season with a 13-0 win over Patuxent. There is no secret behind Radford’s success, just a self-described “old-school” work ethic.
He could get someone else to sculpt Northern’s softball facilities, but his pride won’t allow it.
“I tell the kids all the time, ‘There’s no pixie dust that I can sprinkle on you. We’re going to get out there on the dirt, we’re going to work as hard as we can and we’re going to work to get better,’” Radford said.
He is the constant as girls enter high school and graduate, explaining championship expectations to freshmen about to be surprised by the precise repetition and extra conditioning on the practice field.
Northern graduated nine seniors in 2011, but the attrition did not affect its 2012 record. The Patriots went 25-0, and senior Lindsey Schmeiser was named All-Met Player of the Year before she began her career at Maryland.
Schmeiser is gone, but she counts as one of only two seniors the program lost for its latest title defense. Radford said the team’s depth and experience are positives he couldn’t count on last year.
But, like every season, he was still nervous before Northern’s first game. Five titles have sabotaged Northern’s ability to fly under the radar. Every opponent knows the Patriots’ reputation and wants to be the team to end the streak.
This knowledge — coupled with Radford’s ability to mine fun out of mundane drills and sprints — help the Patriots escape complacency.
“We don’t want to lose,” senior third baseman Erin Adams said. “If we let our guard down, we’re going to get trampled.”
Adams is one of six seniors expected to imbue Northern’s culture of dominance into the next generation. Starting at third base since her freshman year, Adams is 72-1 as a Patriot and will suit up for Catholic University next year while she pursues a nursing degree.
Fellow senior Jess Cummings, an All-Met selection last year, leads Northern in the circle. Last season she compiled a flawless 20-0 record and struck out 260 batters with a 0.38 ERA. Senior outfielder Kierstie Schaefer was second on the team with 31 RBI last year.
Northern will lean on the seniors, but according to Adams, every member of the team is crucial to extending the winning streak.
All the while Radford’s old-timey shtick unifies the girls. They forgive his perfectionist tendencies with laughter.
“He’s just corny. He has this joke, where if someone doesn’t do something, he’s like, ‘My 91-year old grandma can do that better than you,’” Adams said.
“He’s been saying that for so long. I’m like, ‘Coach, your grandma can’t be 91 all these years. She must be 95 by now.’”
Northern has won 54 straight games since May 2010. The Patriots return All-Met P Jess Cummings while nine-time defending WCAC champion O’Connell returns All-Met P Tori Finucane and All-Met C Jillian Ferraro. . . . Defending Virginia AAA Northern Region champion Stone Bridge returns eight seniors, including All-Met SS Nicole Prince and All-Met OF Sydney Broderick. . . . Defending Maryland 4A champ Sherwood lost only four seniors from last year’s team that went 21-0.
1. Northern (1-0)
2. O’Connell (5-0)
3. Stone Bridge (5-0)
4. Sherwood (2-0)
5. South County (4-0)
6. Chesapeake (2-0)
7. Huntingtown (2-0)
8. Loudoun County (4-0)
9. Glenelg (3-0)
10. Madison (5-0)
Records through Tuesday