The Maryland District 7 team knew it might not be able to overwhelm the rest of the Eastern Region this year and breeze into the Big League Softball World Series. On the first day, it found out just how hard it will be.

District 7 lost to the Delaware representative in Tuesday's round robin play, 3-2. It was the first round robin game District 7 has lost since dropping the first game of the 2001 regional tournament, an event it went on to win. District 7 has won seven of the past eight Eastern Regional tournaments and has gone on to win the World Series five times.

This year, however, District 7 is hampered by injuries and the absence of some players who chose not to play this late in the summer.

The rest of the region appears ready to take advantage.

"They definitely know we're not as strong as we've been in the past," said pitcher Carrie Higdon, a La Plata High School graduate. "We have to work a little harder this year."

This Delaware team -- representing District 3 -- is from the same league that lost to District 7 in the regional championship round each of the past two years.

"We haven't exactly killed them," District 7 Coach Tommy Morrison said, "but we've gotten by them. They're probably stronger this year than they were in any of the past years."

District 7 won its first game of the tournament, 17-5, over the host team, Connecticut District 4. Higdon went 5 for 5 with a three-run home run and allowed no earned runs in four innings.

District 7 was scheduled to face the Connecticut state champion, Bristol, and Pennsylvania's champ, Tri-Boro Mid East, yesterday.

"It definitely puts the pressure on us to come back stronger," Higdon said.

But District 7 may get some help from a change in the regional tournament's structure, the fourth in five years. Instead of having the top two teams from round robin play advance to the title game or a best-two-of-three championship round, the top four teams in the six-team field will qualify for a single-elimination tournament.

The semifinals will be this afternoon, after the completion of round robin play. The championship will be at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.

Morrison said District 7 needs to win at least two of its three remaining round robin games to secure a spot in the semifinals.

"I think we'll do okay enough to get ourselves into the semis," Higdon said. "After that, we'll see what happens."