The teams competing in this weekend's Firecracker PONY National Qualifier tournament will be fighting for the same goal: a return trip to Loudoun County. The winning teams in the five age groups will receive invitations to the PONY Softball National Tournament of Champions, set for July 27 to August 1 at various sites in eastern Loudoun.

"You win, you go on. You lose, you go home," said Jim Gallihugh, the president of Lower Loudoun Girls Softball League and coach of the 16-and-under Baseliners team. "We're talking national qualifier, and that brings out the big guns. The intensity level is way up."

Sixty-one teams from Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will compete in the tournament, which begins Friday night and ends Sunday. There are five age divisions: 10 and under, 12 and under, 14 and under, 16 and under and 19 and under. Games will be played at Sully Elementary, Claude Moore Park, Potomac Lakes Sportsplex and Park View High School.

Nearly 270 teams have qualified for the National Tournament of Champions, according to Gallihugh. For area teams that have not earned a berth in the national tournament, the Firecracker tournament is one of the final qualifying tournaments in Northern Virginia.

"We're starting to get down to the end of qualifying. We're basically the last qualifying tournament in this area, so anybody who's still left out is looking to come here," tournament director Bobby Crosby said. "Teams like to come here because we put on a good tournament, and we have excellent fields. That's one of the compliments we always seem to get; the county gives us great fields to use."

There are several local teams participating in the tournament. The Baseliners have two teams entered in both the 10-and-under and 19-and-under divisions and one team in the 12-, 14- and 16-and-under divisions. Loudoun Storm (10, 12, 14, 16), Gold Rush (14, 16, 19), Fire and Ice (12, 14), Sterling Spirit (12) and Sterling Silver (14) also are competing.