By winning its state tournament last month, the 16-and-under Manassas Blaze softball team clinched a berth in the Babe Ruth World Series, because the champion from the World Series host state does not have to win a regional tournament to qualify.

Blaze Manager Jeff Jansen hopes his team can use that non-region champion status to its advantage beginning tomorrow afternoon at Dorey Park in Richmond. Sometimes the teams that win regional championships overlook the teams that did not.

"Usually if you go in as a state champion, they say, 'Ah, you guys backed in' or 'This team's no good,' " said Jansen, whose team plays its opener against the Southwest Region champion, from Louisiana. "I think we're going to surprise a lot of teams. . . . I think it's a very good position to be in."

The region champions hail from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Washington and Wisconsin. The Blaze (23-10) and host Varina complete the 10-team field. The teams are divided into two pools. The top three teams in each pool advance to double-elimination play.

Blaze team members Brittany Bailey (Brentsville) and Jamie Jansen (Osbourn) were on the 12-U team that won the World Series in Jamestown, N.Y., several years ago. Bailey, who was expected to be the current team's primary pitcher, has been out with a muscle tear in her pitching elbow but is working her way back into form. She leads the team with a .400 batting average. In her absence from pitching, Brittany Bingham (Hylton) has notched a 0.61 ERA and 16-8 record.

The Blaze features five members of Osbourn's Virginia AAA state runner-up team -- Jansen, Dana Woodsmall, Caitlin Davis, Cindy Moore and Brittany Barlow. Davis (.397), Woodsmall (.362) and rising Brentsville freshman Kaitlyn Barbour (.357) are among the team's leading hitters. Malorie Pellien (Gar-Field) has a team-high 26 RBI. Kat Solarczyk (Osbourn Park) has 24, and Kristin Nickloy (Hylton) has 23.

As a warmup to the World Series, the Blaze took second last weekend in an 18-U tournament in Williamsburg.