After his Loudoun County Lions lost their tournament opener to the Alabama state champions on Friday, Stephen Hughes, carrying a bucket of baseballs, trudged in cleats through the unpaved parking lot of Fireman's Field, set the bucket behind an assistant coach's car and sat by himself.
Ten minutes after beating West North Carolina the next night, Hughes playfully wrestled down Lions assistant coach Dave Hoag by the third base line.
First base coach Ed Donofrio piled on Hughes. Such was the contrast between the first two games for the host Greater Loudoun team in the 16-to-19-year-old Southeast Regional Babe Ruth Tournament, which started June 22 and finishes with a championship game today in Purcellville.
West North Carolina's "a very good ball team. They had their ace on the mound, and he came out throwing strikes," said Hughes, who will be a junior at Millbrook High School. "We made a statement tonight."
The Lions led by two early in the first game Friday but fell behind in the late innings and lost, 5-3. On Saturday, the Lions won by mercy rule, 12-2, after a seven-run fifth inning and three-run sixth.
"It was all sparked by the first base coach," Donofrio joked.
Shifts in momentum were common over the first two days of the tournament. The Greater Loudoun district team beat Tennessee, 11-4, on Friday but lost, 10-7, to the Virginia state champions on Saturday. Before Virginia won that game, it lost to the Alabama runner-up, 7-0, on Friday.
Brandon Gregory, who plays for the Greater Loudoun district team, got an early seat to watch the Lions game Friday. Gregory, a junior who has four teammates at Heritage High School playing for the Lions, felt relieved to watch someone else play after shaking off jitters from his team's first game.
"To be honest, I was kind of nervous, because I've never been on this big of a stage before. We're all in the same county, so most of us go to school together," Gregory said. "It's a different experience for us [playing at home], but it's still fun. It's the best of the best playing in this tournament."
State champions from Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia as well as regional champions from Eastern and Western North Carolina and Southern Florida competed in the tournament. The Greater Loudoun district team and state runners-up from Virginia and Alabama also qualified, and as the host team, the Greater Loudoun Lions received an automatic berth.
Jose Correa was waiting in line with Southern Florida teammate Brandon Marlette as he bought a snow cone. The two, still in their baseball uniforms, watched every game Friday after they won, 11-1, in their 10 a.m. game.
"It gets us pumped," Marlette said while trying to manage his overstuffed yellow and green snow cone.
"I love watching baseball," Correa said. "We came driving 14 hours. It's tiring, but at the same time you've got a van full of kids, and it's fun."
Greg Van Sickler of James Wood High School didn't expect to handle the bulk of the Lions' pitching duties on Saturday. But Brent Bertschinger of James Wood High School, the team's scheduled right-handed pitcher, could barely move his arm after a foul ball struck his throwing elbow in the fifth inning Friday.
"I wish he was hit in the head, anywhere else [except his arm]. He was Saturday's starting pitcher," Coach Chris Bourassa joked of Bertschinger, who had his arm set in a cast.
Van Sickler allowed only two runs, which he made sure would stand when it was his turn to bat. With two outs in the fourth, he hit a triple and scored after a subsequent single. With two outs in the fifth, he hit a double that drove in two runs.
"Tonight I just had it coming. I took a few more swings at batting practice, and it really helped out," Van Sickler said. "I haven't had a night like that in a while."