A lot of pitchers had an ‘L' placed next to their name in the box scores on March 24 when the MaxPreps Softball Scoreboard was updated.
For one of them, it was a very rare experience.
"Nothing just happened right for us that day. We were hitting the ball well, but it was one of those things where it didn't go our way," said Jess Cummings
, after her Northern (Owings, Md.)
team lost 5-3 to Chopticon (Morganza, Md.)
The loss ended Northern's 77-game winning streak and was Cummings' first loss as a high school pitcher.
Almost equally as rare was the fact that Chopticon scored an earned run off Cummings. Three to be exact, including a first-pitch home run by the Braves' Jayci Cristaudo
The last time Cummings allowed a home run was in 2012 when O'Connell's Jillian Ferraro (North Carolina State freshman) belted a long one.
"I knew that one was gone and it was a good pitch to Jill," said Cummings. "The rise against Cristaudo just hung and with the wind blowing out, it carried. She's always been a decent hitter."
The last time Cummings allowed an earned run was in a state semifinals victory in 2012.
Cummings, a MaxPreps All-American after going unbeaten in 2012 and 2013, took the loss in stride.
"You never like to lose, but it happens and you move on and learn from it," said Cummings, who led Northern to MaxPreps' mythical national championship in 2013
"There are no excuses," she said. "It was a wake-up call to every girl on our team. Every little thing counts now and we must learn from it. We knew it (a loss) was going to happen sooner or later and I'm glad it was early."
As for the home run, Cummings said "It certainly wasn't the way I wanted to start the game, but I wasn't concerned about it. I wasn't thinking about giving up an earned run or the last time I gave up a home run. I was focused on the game, but I wasn't very happy about it."
In winning 22 games in 2013, Cummings allowed only 18 hits and walked just 23 batters in a season that included 298 strikeouts in 135 innings.
During her junior season, opponents batted just .041 against her and her earned run average was a national-leading 0.00 as 21 of her 22 games were shutouts. The lone run scored against Cummings was unearned as the Patriots won their sixth-straight 3A state title.
As a sophomore, Cummings was 20-0 and allowed just seven earned runs while posting a 0.38 ERA and striking out 260 batters in 128 innings. Opponents batted .090 against her that year.
As a freshman on Northern's junior varsity team she was also unbeaten and had a trio of games where she struck out all 21 batters. Coach Robert Earl Radford said the key to the loss was "How the team would come back."
"The team took the loss extremely hard, as you would expect," said Radford. "They have a tremendous amount of pride. As a coach, it was important to see how they reacted in their next game. A 6-0 win at La Plata was just what we needed."
The Patriots followed that with a March 31 win to set up an April 1 rematch with Chopticon. The result: Cummings pitched a two-hitter and struck out 11 in an 8-0 win to run her season record to 4-1 and lower her ERA to under 1.00.
Since the loss, Cummings' other starts this season are more like what Patriots' fans are used to: She's allowed six hits and has 30 strikeouts in a trio of wins. She has 50 strikeouts in 31 innings this season.
Anyone who knows Cummings will call her a perfectionist.
Radford said, "From my perspective, the two impressive things about Jess are her work ethic and the fact that she is never satisfied with anything less than perfection. She is a leader by example in the circle."
"I'm even obsessive about some things," she said. I"m willing to do a lot to be good at things. I'm very competitive at everything I do and want to be the best at everything."
Softball is 24-7 for Cummings. She plays for the Vienna Stars travel club in the summer and fall. Due to fall tournaments, Cummings has never attended a Northern High School homecoming.
"It's the price I pay," she said. "I understand the sacrifices I must make to excel."
She makes many.
She is in the top three of her senior class. As a senior, she is taking six advanced placement courses and when she enters Penn State in the fall, she'll be two classes shy of having sophomore standing.
"I'm not really sure why I took six AP classes, but it's just like with softball – I want to be the best. As for softball, I'll do it seven days a week if I'm not forced to take time off," said Cummings, who considers pitching a stress reliever.
That "stress relief" and "competitive" drive translates into 65-mph curves, rise balls, drops and a changeup she is willing to throw any time.
It has also resulted in Cummings being named Maryland's Gatorade State Player of the Year the last two seasons. It certainly could be a three-peat for the future Nittany Lion.
Cummings said it was a difficult decision choosing Penn State over Maryland, Massachusetts and Princeton, but it came down to Penn State's engineering program, as well as high-quality softball program.
"Being a female and getting an engineering degree from Penn State is huge," said Cummings. "I loved the other schools, but when I visited Penn State, it just fit. And the opportunity to play softball for free, well, I couldn't be happier with my decision."
But before she heads off to State College, Pa., Cummings and her teammates have some work to do in order for Northern to capture its seventh-straight 3A state title.
"Our goal since day one has been to end our season with a win at the University of Maryland field," said Cummings, noting that the Maryland 3A state championship is played on the Terrapins' softball field.
But the Northern squad of 2014 is vastly different than last year's team that outscored opponents 198-1. Six starters graduated and many had been starters since their freshman year.
"It is very different this year. We are young and don't have experience like we did last year, but we have a great coach and will use every ounce of daylight," she said.
Again, Cummings points to the "silver lining" of the 5-3 loss.
"I think (the loss) took pressure off the younger players," said Cummings. "We've got to make sure we don't leave anything back. We have a target on our back every game. We have to prove to people each game out. I don't want (losing) to happen again."