COLUMBIA — One day as a child, Rachel Brawner came across a litter of kittens.
Or so she thought.
No. 7 Harris-Stowe (16-20, 5-9 in AMC play) vs. No. 2 Columbia College (26-11, 12-4)
WHEN: noon, Friday
WHERE: Field 2 at Fields of Legends in Jefferson City
Rachel Brawner proceeded to get her younger sister Ashley Brawner to help her move the cats. Only the black and white animals were not cats — they were skunks. You can guess what happened next.
Of course the skunk protecting its babies sprayed them. When their parents came home later that day, Rachel Brawner says they smelled the sisters from far away.
“It took all night (to get out the smell). We took four baths,” Rachel Brawner said laughing while recalling the experience. “My mom immediately threw away our clothes.”
Ashley Brawner, now 20, has been following her older sister Rachel Brawner, 22, her entire life.
Another childhood story Rachel Brawner remembers vividly involves her brothers Scott Brawner, now 25, and Thomas Brawner, 27. The brothers, especially Scott Brawner, were not being too nice to Rachel Brawner on this particular day, and she was fed up with them.
Rachel Brawner filled two suitcases, one for herself and one for her younger sister, even though Ashley Brawner was unaware of the situation. When Rachel Brawner said that "Scott’s being mean” and they were going to run away, Ashley Brawner did not object. She went along with it and followed her sister.
“She trusted me,” Rachel Brawner said. “But my grandparents came and got us like five minutes later. We didn’t get very far.”
Ashley Brawner continued to follow her sister as they got older. Despite the age difference, Ashley Brawner would play summer softball on her sister's team every other summer. Ashley Brawner would play up a division just so she could play with her sister.
“We didn’t really compete against each other, she always helped me,” Ashley Brawner said. “Rachel would always push me to play catch outside.”
Because Ashley Brawner was younger, opponents would often look down on her and not take her seriously.
“She always tried to make sure she wasn’t known as the young girl,” Rachel Brawner said. “She wanted to show people she was on the team because she was good. She didn’t let other people discourage her.”
Despite playing softball together, the two began to grow apart in high school. Rachel Brawner said they had different groups of friends and the age difference "was a big deal.”
“We didn’t get along much in high school. We didn’t really hang out, and we didn’t really talk that much,” Rachel Brawner said.
After graduating Kirksville High School, Rachel Brawner went off to play softball at Columbia College while her sister finished her final two years of high school. The two began drifting apart.
Then, last year, Ashley Brawner decided to once again follow her sister's lead, committing to play softball at Columbia College.
“My family encouraged us to play together. It’s a lot easier for my parents to go to all of our games,” Ashley Brawner said. “We knew we’d have fun together, though. She always has my back.”
Ashley Brawner even chose Human Services as her major, the same as her sister. However, Ashley Brawner minors in education, which is what she wants to go into.
As the older, more vocal sibling, Rachel Brawner helped her sister become accustomed to the college lifestyle. The two began to hang out all the time. Since Rachel Brawner knew the Columbia area pretty well, her sister didn’t have a problem following her to the hot spots.
Sometimes the two will go see a comedy show at Deja Vu. Other nights they go to the movies. Eating lunch and dinner together every day is a must.
Despite getting closer at Columbia College, they do not live together. Their apartments are in different complexes across the street from each other. They agree that living together might create problems.
“We are different people. We need to have our space,” Ashley Brawner said. “I’m way more organized than her.”
Rachel Brawner said, “We are complete opposites. ... I’m loud, she’s quiet. She’s fast, and I’m not.”
When she needs something, Rachel Brawner says she knows her sister is only a few steps away.
“I love being across the street from her. Even when I borrow stuff now, she gets mad. If we lived together it would be much worse,” Rachel Brawner said. “She is a clean freak.”
Rachel Brawner, a senior, even has Ashley Brawner, a sophomore, following her in the Cougars' batting order. Since Valerie Teter fractured her leg, Rachel Brawner has batted third, while Ashley Brawner has batted fifth.
With the Cougars entering American Midwest Conference tournament play Friday in Jefferson City, the next loss could be the last time the two sisters ever play softball together.
They're glad for the time they have had togheter at Columbia College, the close relationship the sisters had getting in trouble together as children has been regained with the Cougars.
“I love playing with her. Ashley has got to play every game this year with me. That has been the highlight of my senior year,” Rachel Brawner said. “I have been able to see my little sister grow up.”