Solid up the middle

Central Kitsap softballers Karli Baumgartner and Kendall Sours can be easy to confuse.

Both girls are seniors at Central Kitsap High School. Both have long, dark hair. Sours is a shortstop while Baumgartner lines up right next door at second base and both bat from the left-hand side.

The friends are even neighbors.

But despite all the similarities, CK coach Bruce Welling doesn’t confuse the two, nor what they mean to the Central Kitsap softball program.

“There’s no two better infielders in the league,” Welling said. “I’m not saying that as a coach; that’s just how it is.”

Sours and Baumgartner have played pivotal roles in the success of the CK softball program during the past three seasons, helping the Cougs advance to districts the past two seasons, a feat they hope to repeat this year.

“I think this is our year,” said Sours, an All-Narrows League shortstop the past two seasons. “I don’t see how it can’t be. All the seniors want it so much.”

Baumgartner, who earned all-league honors as a center fielder her sophomore year before gaining them at second last season, agreed.

“Everybody wants to win, wants to be here and have fun,” she said.

While the tandem play to near perfection on the field, their success partially stems from their close ties off of it.

In fourth grade, the two became friends and neighbors. In the seventh grade, they competed on the same softball team. Those bonds have helped even more with Baumgartner’s move to the infield.

“I was really happy,” Baumgartner said. “I like the outfield, but second base is my comfort zone. It’s been my favorite position ever since I started there.”

It certainly hasn’t hurt that the move put her best friend next to her.

“It’s just really comfortable knowing you have someone next to you that can back you up,” Baumgartner said. “If a ball is hit to a hole, it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s OK. Kendall’s gonna get to it.’”

Sours agreed, saying she was elated when Baumgartner became her double-play partner.

“Definitely. She’s so good at both,” Sours said of Baumgartner. “But it felt good with her behind me or beside me. We can joke with each other a lot. We know how to react. I can flip it to second base and know who’s catching it.”

If anything, the pairing has left Sours at a disadvantage, Welling joked.

“Kendall, I kind of feel sorry for her because Karli gets all the balls,” Welling said with a smile. “But she kind of runs everything out there. The harder they hit it, the better they like it.”

That much is true, as both softball standouts will attest. But that’s just part of a work ethic that has helped shape their athletic prowess.

“It’s just fun,” Sours said. “Every practice is busy for the infield. Coach (John) Sitton and Bruce will be sweating and we’re going, ‘Come on. Come on.’”

Welling too said the pair’s friendship has been to CK’s advantage on the field.

“They hang around together,” he said. “They know each other. There’s never any bickering or fighting or anything else. They fall down once in a great, great while, but they never stay down.”

Baumgartner agreed, saying the pair has become more like sisters than friends.

“We’re always together,” she said. “Being neighbors helps out a lot. We’ve become such good friends over the years. It’s like a sister thing. And softball, playing together, getting that chemistry, helps a lot also.”

Like any team, there are bumps in the road at times in the season. But both echoed each other in saying humor helps the friends, and the team for that matter, stay at ease.

“We still try to joke around,” Baumgartner said. “We try to set these plays up where I’ll flip it to her with my glove. It’s just fun.”

Sours said it’s even given them some comedic fuel to jokingly use against one another.

“We always laugh at each other,” Sours said. “Probably one of my favorite times this easy popup comes to Karli. She misjudged it so bad she had to dive for it. Only she can do that.”

While the pair have a good time individually, Welling said it’s not at the expense of the team. He said both Baumgartner and Sours have been great about integrating the teams younger and newer players.

“They lead by example,” Welling said. “No one gets on anybody. It’s a very cohesive group.”

And that’s what makes Baumgartner and Sours optimistic that this is the year of the Cougars.

“It has helped,” Baumgartner said of the team’s previous district trips, “but I think having everyone be there that wants to win helps a lot. They want it just as much as we do.”

And while Welling isn’t worried about how this team, or his double-play duo, will perform, he wouldn’t mind a little help from the opposition.

“I’d like more people to hit it to them more often,” Welling said, grinning.

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