All of the packages of candy sold, efforts in soliciting funds from local businesses and early-morning Sunday practices have finally paid off for the Capital Rebels.

The team, comprised of 17 Montgomery County high school baseball stars and one from Anne Arundel, through a combination of on-the-field talent and off-the-field fundraising, made it to the national AAU 16-and-under tournament, which starts Friday in Tampa, Fla.

A number of the Rebels gained some experience on the national level last year. This year, they believe they have the talent to make an impression in their second straight AAU tournament.

"We definitely have quality in both pitching and hitting," said first baseman/relief pitcher Matt Raymond, who is optimistic of his team's chances in the double-elimination format where teams hope to survive a four-game bracket and to advance to the championship {playoff} round. "If we lose two before the playoffs, we come home early. I don't want to do that."

Bethesda American Legion Coach Aubrey Raymond has also coached the Rebels the past five years. His players are now freshmen, sophomores and juniors. Most have experience under pressure from playing with their high school varsity teams and in regional tournaments with the Rebels. He thinks this year's team can go to Tampa and demonstrate that the quality of baseball talent in the Maryland suburbs is being revived.

"Last year, I took them to York, Pa., for the Mason-Dixon tournament. They won. Then we went to the Fall Baseball Classic in Dumfries (Va.) and lost narrowly as a bunch of 15-year-olds playing against high schoolers," said Aubrey Raymond. "I like our chances here."

The Rebels are a collection of players who have been building reputations locally the past few summers. What immediately stands out for Raymond is a deep pitching staff that includes one of his Bethesda American Legion players, Andy Grossman (3-3, 1 save this summer).

"He's my main pitcher. He only joined the varsity team at Whitman High late in the season, so he's still learning," Raymond said. "He doesn't have an extraordinary fastball and not really that great a breaking ball, but his best trait is his composure. He never gets upset on the mound."

Grossman is still trying to get to know most of his teammates -- he joined the Rebels only two weeks ago. But he does not believe unfamiliarity will present problems in Tampa.

"A lot of the players have watched each other and played against each other in high school," Grossman says. "I really don't even know too many of the players yet, but that will come with time."

One of the youngest Rebels, left-handed pitcher Ryan Lambert, 14, has followed up an outstanding season pitching for the Paint Branch high school state championship team with a superb summer for the Cissell Saxon Legion team.

Good Counsel pitcher Brian Legon and Old Mill's Lee Haney, 14, should also contribute heavily.

"We needed another left-hander other than Ryan Lambert and the players told me about Haney," Raymond said. "I saw him play for Gambrills at a tournament in Rockville, so we signed him up."

Baseball has long been a vital part of Haney's life, as his father, Keith, played baseball professionally for several years.

Matt Raymond will be one of the team's anchors offensively in his first season with his father's all-star team. Last year, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase freshman went to an AAU tournament with the Maryland Tidewater Homes team, and came away with all-America status.

Others who will have to provide offensive support include Georgetown Prep catcher Chris Rascher ("He threw out every runner who tried to steal on him," Aubrey Raymond said."), Wootton shortstop Randy Burger, Wheaton outfielder Scott Crim, Bullis center fielder Greg Solomon and Walter Johnson outfielder Chun Rhim.

The team's determination to achieve success was demonstrated not only in its fundraising efforts, but in its practice schedule. Each Sunday for the past seven weeks, the Rebels held 7 a.m. workouts at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda. They practiced for two hours, then rushed off to various summer league or American Legion games. Efforts like those make Aubrey Raymond smile.

"I expect this team to do well," the coach said. "Montgomery County has produced a lot of good ballplayers in the past and will do so in the future."

The Rebels finished third in last summer's AAU tournament. "We can do better," said Matt Raymond. "I think this team is stronger."