The orange hat, orange T-shirt and orange pompoms weren't quite enough, so Diana McColgan added earrings with dangling jerseys, bats and gloves to her ensemble last night. When your team is in the World Series, too much of a good thing can be wonderful.
For the second year in a row, this softball mom cheered as a dozen 11- and 12-year-old girls from McLean played in the championship game of the Little League Softball World Series. The game took place 2,800 miles away, in Portland, Ore., but it was broadcast on ESPN2, so 100 parents, friends and former teammates crammed into Rocco's, an Italian restaurant in the heart of McLean, to watch their team battle for the title against the undefeated team from Orange, Conn.
Think screams and squeals. Think orange and more orange. Think hometown pride mingled with the aroma of pizza.
"I'm sweating!" gasped McColgan. "I'm just as nervous as I was last year!"
McColgan's daughter, Lauren, played second base when the team made it to the series in 2004. Although McLean's Little League program has thrived for 50 years, it was the first time a softball team from the Washington area had made it to the championship game. The McLean All-Stars lost 18-5 to a powerhouse team from Waco, Tex.; many of those players were cheering the loudest at Rocco's last night.
"We would have loved to have won, but the fact that we came in second in a tournament that started with 3,000 teams was great," said Jamie Loving, last year's head coach.
"It made me feel like I was part of something big and important," said 13-year-old Megan Sullivan, who played third base. "It gave me more confidence."
Teammate Michelle Tilson slid into a chair after nonchalantly giving a television interview. "Michelle used to be incredibly shy," said her mother, Teri Sears. "The All-Stars experience really brought her out of her shell. She's a completely different person."
Most of the girls in last year's title game were too old to rejoin the team: Only one player, pitcher Jamie Bell, returned this season. The rest of the girls -- Kristina Bettner, Jilly Falle, Sophie Giaquinto, Carolyn Gilbertson, Katalina Khoury, Mandy Moll, Gen Mulligan, Alex Nihill, Abby Petersen, Jessie Straub and Julia Weeks -- are new. McLean's surprising repeat proves that lightning occasionally does strike the same place twice.
"I'm going crazy inside," said Khoury's mother, Kitty, who was stuck in Virginia because of work. "I think they're going to win it. Definitely."
The team, coached by the fathers of Falle, Bell and Giaquinto, roared through state and regional tournaments with only one loss, then defeated a Florida team in extra innings to win the South Regional title and a return trip to the World Series.
The McLean girls were almost eliminated after losing their second game in the 10-team tournament. But they persevered to reach the semifinals on Tuesday, where, with Bell on the mound, they defeated a team from New Iberia, La., 4-0, to return to the championship game.
These players put in about 30 hours a week in practice, shuttling miles and miles. Many will go on to play on traveling teams and in senior tournaments. A few may score a college scholarship. And that's about it. Softball was dropped from the Olympic Games, starting in 2012, because international sports officials felt the American teams dominated the competition.
So this is the biggest big time most will experience in softball. About 30 parents, siblings and friends made the trip to Oregon. Everyone else -- friends, fans and former teammates -- crowded into Rocco's and stared at the two television screens.
"She is so into the game," said McColgan, pointing to Sears. "You can't quote what she says during the game, because you can't print that in the newspaper."
The unmistakable squeals of preteens filled Rocco's any time an orange jersey appeared on-screen. More screams for each player, and for the two female sportscasters calling the game. Needless to say, each McLean hit and run produced ecstatic claps and cheers.
Things got especially loud in the second inning, when McLean put three runs on the board. Quiet when Connecticut scored later in the same inning. More quiet in the third, as Connecticut made it 3-2. Relieved screams with a McLean run in the fourth.
With two outs in the sixth, McLean leading 6-2, the All-Stars' cheering section was standing on chairs as McColgan hollered out, "One more, baby, one more."
She got it. Connecticut's Cassie Slowik grounded to second for the final out, and just like that, the McLean All-Stars were World Series champions. In Portland, the winners were all smiles, the losers fought to hold back tears, while in Virginia, Rocco's was riotous with chants of "We're number one!"
A dynasty is born? Well, maybe.
Coach Loving has a 2-year-old daughter at home. "She'll probably play one year of T-ball, hate it and go into swimming," he said with a laugh.
Family and friends, including many of the players from last year's McLean team, react to their All-Stars.