SOUTH BEND -

Like plenty of family members, the softball sister act of Kristi and Nichole Kirkpatrick are close. But maybe too close.

"Even the other day, the one was picking food out of the other one's teeth," says Riley head coach Katie Boocher. "We're all watching them just like, 'That's disgusting.'"

Dental hygiene aside, the Kirkpatricks have given Riley some bite in the middle of the lineup and in the circle. Both sisters pitch and rake for the Wildcats.

Kristi, a senior, leads the team in batting (.442 average) and Nichole, only a sophomore, has the best earned run average (2.30).

"She helps me a lot with my pitching," Nichole says of her older sister. The Kirkpatricks' father is their pitching coach as well. "If I mess up and I know the ball is not moving correctly, I'll say, 'Hey, what am I doing wrong?' And she'll help me and she'll correct me on what I need to fix."

"I love having her on the same team as me," says Kristi, who hadn't played competitive ball with her sister until high school. "She's one of my best friends and I know that I can count on her for anything and I love being able to play with her."

That rosy view of things from big sis is perhaps not quite how Nichole, not to mention their three younger brothers, sees things.

"She's kind of a bully sometimes," says Nichole. "She picks on all the younger kids because she's the oldest."

"She's lying!" an indignant Kristi shoots back.

All that being said, at least for Riley, Kristi has been the mother hen in her final season.

"She really kind of took on a mentoring role with all of the girls," Boocher says. "Kind of became like the mother of everyone to make sure that she was not only protecting her sister but everyone in general."

"The sophomore class we have now, which is a big class, can be so successful their senior year because they're going to be very good," Kristi says of Nichole's year. "They're all very talented. Working together as a team, all of them are going to do great."

Riley won its 4A Sectional last season and is 10-7 so far this year.