HAMMOND | The two youngsters ran around the Hessville Little League fields, dodging softballs and other children and picking an occasional dandelion.
Cierra Charbonneau and Angelica Justiniano soon fell in love with the game. And during one of those early practices the two found out they were related, third cousins.
"It was kind of weird," Justiniano said. "We didn't really know each other."
That all changed as the two played on the same Hessville team for years, with Gary Charbonneau, Cierra's father, as the head coach.
"Those were great times," Gary said. "You could tell the girls loved the game."
The two Morton juniors have taken the Govs (14-1) back to where they once were, the one city team in the region the suburban powers didn't want to play.
Justiniano is Morton's pitcher and Charbonneau calls all the pitches behind the plate.
"It's interesting," Morton coach Matt Barno said of having relatives in the game's most important positions. "They make a good team. They say what they need to say. They're not afraid of hurting each other's feelings, because they've done it before."
Charbonneau is batting .386 this spring with 21 RBIs. She is Morton's cleanup hitter.
Justiniano bats fifth in the order. She's batting .472 with seven RBIs. In the circle she is 10-1 with 58 strikeouts and three shutouts on the season.
Before the two go out to hit they get together and say the same thing every time: "Just us."
But it isn't just them. Five other starters on this Morton team learned the game and played together in the Hessville Little League.
"This season has been fantastic," Charbonneau said. "We know what each other can do. We've played together so much. That helps us out a lot. We just want to keep this going."
Justiniano throws a fastball, curve, drop, rise, screw and change. Her catcher cousin has the task of seeing which pitches are working on a given day and keeping an eye on what each batter is doing to know what to call next.
Barno said his backstop has gotten really good, especially since she didn't become a full-time catcher until her freshman year.
"This is the second year these girls have been together," Barno said. "Everyone is getting used to each other. The girls want to play the best teams in the area. They are looking forward to any challenge."
Both girls want to play college softball. But first, they want to finish off their high school careers. So far, so good.
While Morton's strength-of-schedule isn't jaw-dropping, the Govs have some solid wins. The season-opener against Highland was good. But an 8-1 win against Wheeler meant the most.
"They've killed us every time we've played them in the past," Justiniano said. "It felt so great to beat them."
"We want to keep it going," Charbonneau said. "And we believe that we can."