Tonight in McLean, fans will huddle around the big-screen TV for the biggest softball game of the year. But they won't be watching Jennie Finch and the U.S. Olympic gold medal hopefuls.
They'll be watching McLean's girls of summer: 14 preteens who pitched and batted their way to their own championship.
The members of the All-Star team advanced to the finals of the Little League Softball World Series in Portland, Ore., to take on their 11- and 12-year-old counterparts from Waco, Tex. And while parents will cheer from the stands and friends back home in McLean will gather at Rocco's Restaurant, the coolest thing, according to the girls, is that they're going to be on ESPN.
"It's been stressful a little bit," confessed Lauren Sutherland, 12, who plays right field and second base and sometimes pitches. "But our coach just tells us to do our best, to do whatever it takes."
No team from Virginia -- or the D.C. metropolitan area -- has ever made it this far in the 30-year history of the tournament -- beating teams from across the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Europe and Puerto Rico. In tonight's final, the opponent is a true Goliath: the girls from Waco, who have won 10 of the last 12 World Series.
For her part, Lauren -- who also likes to spell her name Lauryn, just to be different -- tries to eat grapes before a big game. Coach Jamie Loving, who played in the McLean Little League back when he was a preteen, said he has noticed all sorts of superstitious rituals the girls have adopted this week, from eating grapes to making sure braids intertwine and hang just so.
On Tuesday night, during the semifinal game against a team from British Columbia, Loving said his team looked shakier than usual -- even in an 11-6 win.
"None of them had ever been on television before," Loving said. "They spent two hours working on their hair before the game. But that was a good diversion."
And that was just for ESPN2.
Already, the girls are hometown heroes.
"It was awesome. It was electric," said Mike Juliano, owner of Rocco's, which played host to a viewing party Tuesday night and is doing the same tonight. "Our team's come a long way. The customers are coming in all the time asking about it. They're the parents of the kids, the parents of the kids' friends."
Win or lose, McLean Little League organizers say they plan a welcome celebration at Reagan National Airport tomorrow night for the team's return.
"There will be yelling and screaming and a bunch of people clapping," promised Chris Sowick, the league's vice president of softball.
First things first, though: the title game.
"We're going to relax and try to have a good time," leftfielder Sarah Eidt, 12, said in between batting practices yesterday. "We've worked hard and practiced hard. It takes all 14 of us to win, not just one of us, not two of us."
Players call themselves the "comeback team" for the number of times it has looked as though they would lose. In a 5-4 series win against a team from the Philippines, McLean scored two of its runs in the sixth and final inning to tie the game and push it into extra innings.
The team's overall record is 15-1, and they have won all five games in the series.
"We're a powerhouse," said Lauren, who starts the seventh grade at Longfellow Middle School next month. "We can really hit the ball hard. We kind of, like, just trust each other."
The series attracts 10 teams from all over the world that have won regional tournaments. The family and friends of the players pack Alpenrose Field in Portland. Last night, the coaches played against the umpires as the girls heckled from the sidelines.
Many of the McLean All-Stars started out playing T-ball as 5- and 6-year-olds, then graduated to the aluminum bat and softball. Loving said their success this year is poignant in that it marks his last year coaching for a while; he plans to take time off to see more of his 17-month-old daughter.
When she is of T-ball age, he plans to return to coaching. He said he can only hope his daughter takes from softball the same messages as his All-Stars.
"For these girls, the most important thing they've learned is self-confidence," Loving said. "They have all been in high-pressure situations where they have 13 teammates relying on them and fans in the stands. Hopefully, that will carry over into all aspects of their lives.
"When things get tough, they can accomplish what they want to do."