Members of Hilton Head Island's Dixie Youth Minors all-star team sat cross-legged, gnawing watermelon, while their coaches took turns speaking.
The Hilton Head squad had just suffered its first loss in five games, a 20-3 defeat to Hampton-Varnville at Bluffton's Oscar Frazier Park in Game 1 of the best-of-three District 8 championship series. The game ended by run-rule after three innings.
Manager Doug Gilman wanted again to create a teaching moment for his team of 9- and 10-year-olds.
"What could you have done differently?" he asked the players.
"Everything," a player responded.
But soon, the conversation delved into specifics, and Hilton Head's squad left the ballpark with a renewed focus heading into today's finale at Walterboro Recreation Center. Hampton-Varnville can win the district title with a victory. If Hilton Head wins, it would force a decisive Game 3, also tonight.
Gilman said he has tried to share life lessons with his team throughout the all-star season. His message during practice Monday was one he once received: Stop feeling sorry for yourselves. The advice seemed apt Tuesday.
Coaches told Hilton Head players to be more aggressive today, that they need to come out with fire.
The intensity was there last week, when Hilton Head tore through the sub-district tournament with four wins. Pitcher Aiden Sanz worked the decisive game, throwing six innings to help send Hilton Head to the championship series.
Sanz threw again Tuesday, exiting in the second. Hampton-Varnville pushed the game out of reach with 14 runs in the second inning. The visitors were led by second baseman Lew Rice, who had three hits, drove in a run and scored three times.
"We put the ball in play a lot, got some timely hits," Hampton-Varnville coach Robbie Poston said. "The boys battled and had good discipline at the plate."
Poston's squad fought out of the loser's bracket to win its sub-district, defeating Walterboro twice the final day to advance to the championship series.
Gilman knows his team faces a similar challenge today. But Hampton-Varnville has proven it can be done. Gilman said his team received a reality check after its recent success.
The Hilton Head group has played together for a few weeks now, competing in tournaments outside the all-star season to prepare. Gilman said his goals for the group were that it improve throughout the tournament and have fun, that players' summer break remain stress-free.
"Winning is a byproduct of hard work," he said. "And we've seen that."
Hampton-Varnville 20, Hilton Head 3 (3 innings)
Hampton-Varnville 2 14 1-- 20 10 2
Hilton Head 030-- 3 3 5
WP: Matt Poston 2 IP, 2 H, 3 BB, K, 3 R, 3 ER
Hitters: Hampton-Varnville-- Lew Rice 3 for 3, RBI; Casyn Dobson 2 for 2, 2 RBI, 2 BB; Matt Poston 2 for 3, RBI; Kennedy Fairey 1 for 1, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB. Hilton Head-- Brennan Studenc 1 for 1; Aiden Sanz 1 for 2; Gage Hurlbut 1 for 2.