When Jessie Green was 9, her mother Rhonda developed encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, and went into a coma. During the three weeks Rhonda spent in intensive care, Jessie wasn't allowed to see her mother.
That was when Jessie began to play softball in earnest.
"Softball gave me a relief; it took my mind off of her so I didn't worry," said Jessie Green, now 11. "It'd be so exciting and everything when you get to hit or play in the field or cheer for everybody. It was really fun."
Rhonda emerged from the coma, and her condition has improved. But Jessie, a pitcher and first baseman, never stopped playing softball.
And last weekend, Jessie and 13 teammates on the Manassas Express won seven straight games in the first Babe Ruth Softball World Series in Jamestown, N.Y., to become the nation's top under-12 fast-pitch softball team. Jessie and three other players were named to the all-tournament team.
"I still can't believe that we're the best in the country, because there are so many teams in the United States," said pitcher Cristi Ecks, 12. Ecks was a dominating force from the mound for Manassas, striking out 22 batters and earning four wins to be one of only two pitchers named to the all-tournament team.
In the round-robin portion of the tournament, which determined playoff ranking, Manassas outscored the competition 46-13 to earn the top seed. But the road was far bumpier for the Express in the playoffs. It came from behind in the last inning of both the quarterfinal and semifinal to advance.
The worst scare came during the championship game against arch-rival Stamford, Conn. "In the first inning, it was a-lot-to-nothing," Jessie Green recalled. (It was 4-0.)
But the Express settled down and went into the final inning up, 11-6. Ecks got two quick outs--and then got stuck.
"I was striking them out most of the time, but then they started catching on. We were all really nervous when we couldn't get that third out," Ecks recounted. "My stomach was hurting really bad."
After giving up three runs, Manassas got the final out at home plate.
"We were all like, 'Thank God!' " Ecks said. "Then we partied. We went to a restaurant and sang and stuff. And we danced to 'Bad to the Bone' on the jukebox."
The Express knows how to party on the field, too. The team uses a deafening array of chants and cheers to keep themselves motivated.
"We don't have to go there and add sugar to their diet to pep them up," said Joe Green, Jessie's father and one of the three coaches for the Express. "These girls want to play ball; they have it in their hearts. They want to win."
Deborah Horn, commissioner of Babe Ruth softball, said the teams that did the best were the ones with the most established programs and the best coaching. "Compared to other teams in their age group, Manassas was exceptionally polished and very disciplined," Horn said. "There was no question in their minds: They came for the title."
While a handful of the players on the team will move to the next age division--like power-hitter Keshia Robinson, who was the only player in the tournament to hit the ball out of the park--and she did it three times--the majority of the team, including Ecks and Green, still qualifies for the under-12 division.
In fact, the team's younger players have never lost a tournament game, winning the regional championship last year in the under-10 division.
"It's not going to last forever, but while we're on this train and it's running as well it is, I'm going to enjoy it," Joe Green said.
"We're a machine that's just put together right. We really lucked out."