The Westchester/Del Rey Junior All-Star softball team arrived as conquering heroes after establishing itself as the top U.S. team at the Junior Little League Softball World Series in Kirkland, Washington.

The team, composed of 13- and 14-year-old girls from the Westchester area, represented 11 western states at the World Series and advanced through an international field to the championship game Saturday, August 18th. Though they fell 16-6 to the team from Puerto Rico in the final game, they were welcomed home as champions when their plane landed at LAX the following day.

The lighted pylons at LAX glowed purple in their honor, recognizing the color they wore throughout the World Series. They received a police and fire escort from the airport to Nielsen Youth Park, where hundreds of cheering fans, mostly clad in purple, awaited them to celebrate. And even Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl showed up with a resolution honoring their performance.

“Their accomplishment is truly a tremendous one,” said Keith Evans, whose daughter Brittany played on the team. “The team this year has played some of the best ball I’ve seen from their age group. They have also shared one common thread of many of our Westchester teams, and that is determination. They never give up.”

Indeed, though the girls lost two games in pool play and advanced to the semi-final game thanks to a tiebreaker, they always seemed focused on winning. So, when they went down 1-0 to the top-seeded East Surry Little League team of Pilot Mountain, N.C. in the semi-final game, there was little doubt that they would come back.

Haleigh Pellecer’s single down the right-field line knocked in two fourth-inning runs as the team defeated East Surry to earn a spot in the final of the Junior Softball World Series in Kirkland. Brittany Evans scored the go-ahead run and Danielle Cullen came in right behind her to ensure the 3-1 victory.

Even in the championship game, the team twice came back from deficits to tie Puerto Rico 5-5 in the fourth inning. As the game wore on, however, Puerto Rico strung together a series of hits and put together a six-run seventh inning to defeat Westchester 16-6.

That loss in the final mattered little to the fans who showed up to congratulate the team.

As one of the banners read, the team was “First in the U.S. Second in the world. Always first in our hearts.”

“To make it to the final game of the World Series has been a dream come true,” said Evans. “To stand back and watch as they are interviewed by ESPN on-air commentators, watching the game being filmed by seven different cameras marked ‘ESPN’, then to come home and watch the expression on their faces when they see themselves on TV was indeed priceless.

“My daughter threw her hands over her head and shouted ‘That’s me!’ as she watched herself get the first hit of the championship game.”

Now, however, the league is struggling with how to pay the unexpected bill for two weeks of travel on the road.

The Westchester/Del Rey Little League is accepting tax-deductible donations to offset the expenses, and donations can be sent to WDRLL, P.O. Box 881419, Los Angeles 90009.

WESTCHESTER NATIVE POISED TO LEAD U.S. STRATEGIC COMMAND —Assuming the Senate confirms his appointment as the new commander, Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, a Westchester native and St. Bernard High School graduate, will assume leadership of STRATCOM, which is the lead Combatant Command for integration and synchronization of Department of Defense efforts in combating weapons of mass destruction.

Marine Gen. James Cartwright recently relinquished command of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) to assume his duties as the new vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Cartwright had led the command since July 2004.

Chilton is currently commander, Air Force Space Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, where he is responsible for the development, acquisition and operation of the Air Force’s space and missile systems.

The general oversees a global network of satellite command and control, communications, missile warning and launch facilities, and ensures the combat readiness of America’s intercontinental ballistic missile force. He leads more than 39,700 space professionals who provide combat forces and capabilities to North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Strategic Command.

Chilton is a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 1976. A Guggenheim Fellow, he completed a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Columbia University.

He flew operational assignments in the RF-4C and F-15 and is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School. Chilton also conducted weapons testing in various models of the F-4 and F-15 prior to joining the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1987 and has logged more than 5,000 hours of flight time.

At NASA, he flew on three space shuttle missions on both Atlantis and Endeavor, and served as the deputy program manager for Operations for the International Space Station Program.

The general has served on the Air Force Space Command Staff, the Joint Staff, the Air Staff, and commanded the 9th Reconnaissance Wing. Prior to assuming his current position, he was Commander, 8th Air Force, and Joint Functional Component Commander for Space and Global Strike, U.S. Strategic Command.

Chilton was a member of the St. Anastasia School class of 1968 and St. Bernard High School class of 1972.

OTIS COLLEGE PRESENTS GREEN EXHIBIT — The Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College of Art and Design will present the exhibition “Do it Now: Live Green” starting Saturday, August 25th, and continuing through October 20th. The exhibit will include an opening reception from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, August 25th, at the college, 9045 Lincoln Blvd. in Westchester.

The event will feature live music by deejay Paul V. of Indie 103.1, a special appearance by the Chico Bag Plastic Bag Monster, and food and gifts courtesy of Whole Foods Market, Plaza El Segundo.

The community is invited to bring alternative-fueled vehicles to Big Imagination Group, 3603 Hayden Ave., in Culver City at 3 p.m. Saturday, August 25th, to caravan to Otis, where the vehicles will have prime parking for viewing during opening reception.

The exhibit focuses on the home, featuring products made from renewable, recycled and repurposed sources by individuals and companies that are manufacturing and distributing their goods with environmental integrity in our community.

The more individual consumers make informed choices on how they spend their money, the sooner economic structures can evolve from a “take what you can, don’t give anything back” model to one of cyclical renewal and longevity.

The exhibition is a celebration of changing consciousness and innovation that is being implemented today, not tomorrow.

Information, (310) 665-6905.

LMU STUDENTS RETURN — Many Loyola Marymount University students will begin returning this week for classes, which begin Monday, August 27th.