One year ago Wagner's had just won its first tournament of the summer. That tournament, the Central Atlantic States Regional, just happened to be the tournament that boasted a berth in the ASA Girls 18-and-under national fastpitch softball tournament as a reward to the winner.
There was one problem. The nationals were being held in California, 3,000 miles and $15,000 away for Wagner's 14 players and six coaches.
So the next nine days were filled with phone calls and fund-raising, running around and fund-raising, practicing and fund-raising.
Despite their efforts, not all the money was raised, but all of the girls and coaches -- and even some of the parents -- went, only to see Wagner's lose its first two games of the double-elimination tournament to teams from Orange County, Calif., and St. Louis, Mo.
Even in defeat, the experience was invaluable.
"Last year I felt like we're going to California, and these teams are going to blow us away," said Sherri Allen, an outfielder/catcher in her fourth summer with Wagner's, one of three Anne Arundel County-based teams in this year's nationals, which get under way tonight at Columbia's Cedar Lane and Centennial parks.
"This year, instead of defending myself against them, I'm going to go after them and be more aggressive," said Allen, who is transferring to East Carolina after playing for Towson State last season. "I think if we go after somebody, there is no reason we should lose."
This year, the travel expenses are a lot less, and Wagner's has a share of the home-field advantage.
Manager Tommy Burns of New Freedom, Pa., is not calling for the tournament championship just yet.
"We'd like to win one game," Burns said. "We're just going to take it one game at a time."
That philosophy has propelled Wagner's to five tournament victories this season, including its Wagner's Invitational in Glen Burnie, the Southern Maryland Invitational in Waldorf, the Pegasus Invitational and the Carolina Invitational.
The fifth one, the Maryland state tournament, is the one that gave Wagner's another shot at the national title.
"I don't think we're going to be as nervous as we were last year, first of all because we're in Maryland and we've played at Columbia before, and second because we've got a great ball team and we all play well together," said Melanie Scharf, a former Glen Burnie standout who is on her way to a partial volleyball/softball scholarship at UMBC.
Wagner's competes two nights a week in county league games and every weekend in tournaments across the country.
"It's really not hard if you enjoy it," said Mandy Albrecht, an infielder from Glen Burnie who is going to Towson State on a full scholarship in the fall.
It is a sacrifice, however.
Many of the players hold down one or two jobs, in addition to playing on the team. The girls don't complain, citing the baseball education they receive in return.
"The coaches really coach you, they tell you how to play the positions," Albrecht said. "They teach you right, and you don't get that at a lot of places."
Burns is assisted by Paul Tewey, C.J. Holler, Ray Cohen, Al Sheridan, and Mike Ackerman -- all who work on a volunteer basis.
The opportunity to travel and meet people from other parts of the country is another reason the girls cite for giving up weekends at the beach with their friends to play softball.
But most of all they relish the top-notch competition, which hTC comes from teams in and out of Maryland.
Wagner's competes for talent with the Jade Garden Bandits and the Tangerine Machine, both of which will compete in the nationals. The roster of each of the local teams reads like a roster from an all-star game. Wagner's pitching staff is particularly impressive, boasting Amy Jakubowski, The Sun's Player of the Year from Chesapeake who is going to Furman on a softball scholarship, Stacey Matcuk, also from Chesapeake and a scholarship recipient at Robert Morris, and Kim Sheridan, who tore up the Catholic League with Martin Spalding.
Burns, who last year was "on sabbatical" from his manager's job, thinks that the teams from California, of which there are scheduled to be at least five, are the ones to beat.
"If the team from Orange County that beat us in the nationals last year is back, I'd like to draw them in the first round," Burns said. "But whoever it is is OK with me. If we play good defense and we hit the ball, and our pitching holds up, then we'll be fine. But that's a lot of ifs."
ASA Girls 18-and-under tournament
* Where: Cedar Lane Park, Centennial Park, Columbia, MD
* When: Wednesday -- Six games at 7:30, six at 9.
Thursday -- Seven games every two hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Games continue Friday through Sunday, when the championship game will be played at Cedar Lane Park, tentatively at 2 p.m.
* Tickets (available at both parks): Adults -- $20 for all five days or $6/day; children 6 to 12 $10 and $3; children under 6 are free.