According to Abbey Welch, the reception Maryland District 7 received this week from opponents at the Big League Softball World Series in Kalamazoo, Mich., was much different from last year's.

"They're out to get us this year," said Welch, District 7's top pitcher.

The only five-time champion in the 23-year history of the event, District 7 returns this year as defending champion. Last year, even though it was just two years removed from its fourth title, the players did not feel their opponents took them seriously.

This year's field was ready for District 7. After winning the tournament's opening game Monday, 11-0, over the Southwest Region champion, Texas District 11, District 7 came back an hour later and lost, 1-0, to the Canadian champion from Victoria, British Columbia.

Canada scored in the top of the first inning, after three hard-hit balls. District 7 out-hit the Canadians, 5 to 2, but could not get a run across. The Maryland squad stranded runners at third in the first and sixth innings.

"It was a game we didn't belong losing," said District 7 assistant coach Glenn Larnerd Jr., "and from then on we had to be perfect the rest of the week."

Aware that one more loss nearly ensures it will not qualify for Saturday's championship game, District 7 defeated Puerto Rico District 1, the Latin American champion, 7-1, Tuesday. Puerto Rico handed District 7 its only defeat in last year's tournament.

Welch pitched the first three innings and struck out all nine batters she faced. District 7 scored four runs in the second inning on a two-run single by Northern graduate Heather Holley and RBI singles by Welch and Huntingtown senior Kelli Seger. Seger also went 4 for 4 in District 7's victory over Texas District 11.

Later Tuesday, District 7 defeated the West Region champion, California District 51. Lacey Trossbach, a Great Mills graduate who is now at St. Cloud State in Minnesota, pitched a complete-game three-hitter with eight strikeouts. Welch went 5 for 5.

District 7 played the host team from Kalamazoo last night in a game that ended too late to be included in this edition. It faces the South Region champion from Debary, Fla., today at 1 p.m., and a team from the Netherlands, the European representative, at 6 p.m. It finishes round-robin play at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow against the Central Region champion from Grand Rapids, Mich.

The teams with the top two records in the eight-game round-robin will play at 1 p.m. in Saturday's championship game. It will be televised on tape-delay on ESPN2 on Aug. 27.

Abbey Welch of the District 7 team pitches against Delaware as Kelli Seger and Heather Holley anticipate a bunt.