At one point, reaching the Babe Ruth World Series seemed like an unlikely goal for the Charles County Youth League All-Stars. After all, the past two years at the Mid-Atlantic regional were marked by tough draws and early exits for the 16-and-under softball team.

But after storming through the regional last month as the tournament's only undefeated team, the Charles team heads to Richmond tomorrow for the World Series.

The competition promises to be a step up from what the team saw in Syracuse, N.Y., last month, but it has had a stingy pitching staff and played nearly mistake-free ball.

Behind the starting trio of Amanda Hanson, Ashley Johnson and Christina Tolley, the team whipped through the regional tournament with a 0.83 ERA. The staff posted two shutouts and allowed only nine walks in five games.

"The better teams we're going to face have some good hitters," Coach Kevin Elder said. "These girls realize they can't walk batters, so they really understand the importance of getting ahead in the count."

Ten of the 13 players played together on a select team this summer, and the experience has made a big difference. Shortstop Karen Elder, the coach's daughter, is playing on the team for the third straight year. She said that unlike in previous years, she has never noticed a sense of panic when the team has been tested.

For instance, during a 2-1 victory over Pelham Bay, N.Y., in the regional tournament, Tolley pitched out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the top of the 10th inning, and then Kelsea Corrado bunted home the winning run in the bottom half.

"All the little things in the close games are definitely what separated us from years past," Karen Elder said. "We lost two very close games the first year, and we lost a close first game last year. The other teams were just a level above us, and eventually they caught onto our pitching. This year we were the ones who stepped up."

The real proof of the Charles team's poise was in the field, where it committed only five errors at the regional tournament. Given the competition at the World Series, the team knows another strong fielding effort could go a long way toward landing a spot in the Aug. 19 title game.

"I think a lot of us are confident about going to the World Series," Johnson said. "We just think we played in regionals with a minimum amount of errors, and that's the best performance that we . . . have had. We're confident that we can win it."

Shortstop Karen Elder, who is playing on the Charles team for the third straight year, said that unlike in past years, she has never noticed a sense of panic when the team has been tested.