Hard work and a love of softball helped cousins Arika and Bri Brochu become two of the better high school players in central Maine, Arika at Cony and Bri at Gardiner. Their dads had plenty to do with their success, too.

Their daughters grew up watching their fathers play softball, then were coached by them at the youth level. Arika’s father, Al, and Bri’s dad, Don, are cousins and after high school — Al was a catcher at Hall-Dale, Don a wrestler at Cony — satisfied their athletic assimilation to adulthood on the softball field.

“I grew up watching him play softball and I started around 7 or 8,” Bri said of Don. “Him and Al always used to coach me and Arika.”

Don and Al are coaching their daughters in high school as volunteer assistants at their respective schools. And Al continues to coach both girls as an assistant for the Maine Thunder U-18 squad, a Portland-based team that plays throughout New England during the summer.

Arika, a junior at Cony, is a few months older than her sophomore cousin and began playing when she was 5 years old.

“I started pitching at the age of 7,” Arika said. “He taught me up through high school.”

Al admits it was a little tougher to coach his daughter when she was younger because he may have demanded too much from her.

“I think I expected more effort,” he said. “There are never any issues now.” By the time they reached high school, Arika and Bri were ready to play. Both made freshmen debuts on excellent teams. Arika started in center field and pitched a few games on the 2012 Cony team that won the Class A state championship while Bri started at second base last year for Gardiner, which reached the Eastern Maine Class B final.

With the graduation of Sonja Morse, Arika has become the Rams full-time pitcher this year. In her second game of the season against Skowhegan, she fanned 14 batters.

“She’s in the 60 mile an hour range,” Cony coach Rocky Gaslin said.

Arika has used her rise, drop ball and changeup more than her fastball to keep hitters off balance.

“I’ll play anywhere, but I enjoy pitching,” said Arika, who played shortstop last season.

Although they play on the same team, the cousins have faced one another a few times. Earlier this season, Bri scorched a line drive off Arika when Gardiner and Cony met in an exhibition game.

“I take it as a learning experience,” Bri said. “She’s probably the best pitcher I’ll face all season.”

While Bri is a line drive hitter who generally leads off the order, Arika bats third and is a power hitter. She already had 11 home runs heading into the season, which has tied a school record. So far she hasn’t seen much to hit.

“They’re pitching around her right now,” Gaslin said. “They’re not giving her many strikes. If they’re going to walk her she’s going to have to take walks.”

Arika and Bri have spent so much time together, car-pooling, playing and practicing, they hardly seem like second cousins.

“I consider her a sister, pretty much,” Arika said.

Both enjoy having their dads around to coach and encourage them.

“He’s good at helping girls on their swings,” Bri said of Don. “I picked up a bat and swung it lefty and he kept me on that side.”

Al is also helps coach the Cony field hockey team and his daughter is one of the better players in the state.

“I don’t look at him as a dad when he’s coaching me on the field,” Arika said

The cousins are among the top 10 academicallyacademically in their class and both would like to play softball in college. Arika is also considering going Division III if she decides to play field hockey, too, but she’s keeping her options open. She’s attended a number of showcases already.

“We’re getting e-mail (from colleges) left and right,” Al said. “This summer will be a big summer.”

Bri is a couple of years away form college but said she definitely wants to play at the next level and shares Arika’s love of the game.

“She loves softball like me,” Bri said. “She’s always been a big role model to me and I love playing.”

Between watching her father and older sister play, Arika’s fondness for softball was cemented early on.

“I’ve grown up living it,” she said. “I used to go to all my sister’s games. I fell in love with the sport.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638 [email protected] Twitter: @GaryHawkinsKJ