- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004

Michelle Tilson of McLean was nervous yesterday about taking her first airplane trip, but it was hardly enough to keep the 12-year-old from her field of dreams.

Michelle and her 13 teammates flew to Portland, Ore., where their softball team will compete in the Little League Softball World Series Championship, which begins Thursday.

It is the first time that a Virginia team has made it to the world championship.

“I am excited about going on a plane,” Michelle said. “The furthest I have ever been is probably Georgia.”

Although Michelle would love to win the championship, she hopes to at least advance to the semifinal round on Aug. 17.

“I really want to win so much because if we get to the semifinals, then we’ll get to be on ESPN,” Michelle said. “That has always been a dream of mine.”

The cable network is scheduled to broadcast the semifinal games on ESPN2 and the Aug. 19 championship game on ESPN at 5 p.m.

All of the players are 12 years old, from the 2004 McLean Little League and from either Falls Church or McLean.

The team’s success is built upon a well-balanced attack of consistent pitching and solid hitting.

Shannon Engel throws a 54-mph fastball and has pitched three shutouts in state and regional competition to help her team reach the world series.

Manager Jamie Loving said nobody on the team is an easy out.

“What makes this team so unique is that all 14 players are so strong,” he said. “There is no break in our lineup. Even the No. 9 hitter is a very good hitter.”

The team went 5-1 in the state competition, then a perfect 5-0 in the regionals.

“We have played 11 games so far and outscored our opponents 101-7,” Mr. Loving said. “In the regionals, we outscored opponents 45-5.”

The 10 world series teams are composed of six from the United States and one each from Bacolod City, Philippines; Victoria, British Columbia; Utrecht, Netherlands; and Maunabo, Puerto Rico.

The other U.S. teams are from Upper Darby, Pa.; Waco, Texas; Essexville, Mich.; Pendleton and Beaverton, Ore.

The field will be divided into two pools.

The competition begins with each team playing one game against the other teams in their pool.

The two teams within the pools with the best records advance to the semifinals. Winners in the single-elimination, semifinal round advance to the championship game.

The McLean team plays its first game Thursday against the Pendleton all-stars.

“I am excited about the Little League World Series and a chance to travel with my friends,” said Shannon. “I think this group of girls will best represent McLean and Falls Church and make our towns proud.”

Pitcher Brooke Brown said the experience has been just as important as winning.

“I am very glad we get to go to Portland, and I don’t feel any pressure,” she said. “When I get older, I can tell people how well we played and how we got to travel on a plane and spend time just being together.”

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