SISTERLY BOND: Bunker Hill senior pitcher Payton Bryant shares softball journey with younger sister Camryn Bryant

Bunker Hill junior Camryn (left) and senior Payton Bryant (right) in their Lady Bears' softball uniform. (Photo courtesy of Camryn Bryant)Payton (left) and Camryn Bryant (right) playing for the Riverbend Bandits' softball team. (Photo courtesy of Camryn Bryant)Bandits' travel-ball head coach Craig Bryant with his daughters Camryn (left) and Payton (right). (Photo courtesy of Camryn Bryant)
Marcus Smith
Sports Editor

Growing up is a tough feat for anybody. Maneuvering through life is a challenge – even in the world of sports – especially if one’s alone during the journey.

Fortunately for Bunker Hill senior Payton Bryant and junior Camryn “Cami” Bryant, they have been able to experience the trials and tribulations of the sports world together. The two sisters have navigated through softball for over a decade.

From their time with the Riverbend Bandits' girls fastpitch softball teams when they were little to their current time with the Lady Bears' varsity squad, Cami and Payton have enjoyed the ride. Along this journey, they have been coached by their father, Craig Bryant during travel-ball season.

Although there has been recent turmoil in the world that has affected all walks of life including one of the biggest entertainment sectors, i.e. sports, the Bryants have embraced this path.

The pair and their Lady Bear softball squad began their 2020 campaign on a very high note as it opened the year at 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference.

Payton Bryant has been on a tear this season at-bat and on the mound. In just five games, she has gone 4-1 as a pitcher – three of which were complete games. She has pitched through 28 innings, allowed 16 hits, 11 runs (five earned and two home runs) while walking 11 batters and striking out 49.

Payton also earned herself a no-hitter in the 10-0 victory over East Burke on March 9. In this match-up, she struck out nine batters while only allowing one base on balls in five innings pitched (a complete game). In the batter's box, she scored one run, obtained a base on balls and even had a stolen base.

In the batter's box this season, she went 5-for-12 with seven runs scored – including a homer in the season opener on March 5 against East Rutherford – and eight RBIs while earning four base on balls. She also collected two stolen bases and two doubles.

In what could possibly have been her final game as a Lady Bear on March 13, Payton pitched through seven innings – another complete game – and allowed three hits and one run. She struck out 12 batters and walked four in the 8-1 win over West Iredell.

“I never thought my senior season would turn out this way,” said Payton Bryant. “I've definitely been very disappointed about it. My team and I worked extremely hard in the off season to really make this year count. Our team has seven seniors who have played together for a long time, and we were really excited about our potential this year. I just try to think positively and hope that we will get to play again May 18th.”

As far as being able to experience her softball life with her sister Cami, Payton said it really hasn't hit her that she will not be playing with her next year.

“I look forward to cheering her on as she plays her senior year in high school,” she said. “Over the last three years, our bond has really gotten stronger. We have each other's backs and push each other to get better. I know Camryn will always be there to pick me up on and off the field.

“I've been playing softball for 12 years and (a) majority of those have been playing with my sister, Camryn. Playing with my sister has been a blessing and she is my best friend...Camryn and I have very different personalities, but that has made us stronger together.”

She also looks forward to playing with Cami at Lenoir-Rhyne University in 2022:

“I am so grateful we get the opportunity to continue to play together in college,” she said. “I cannot imagine playing softball without her. One of my favorite memories playing with Camryn was being able to go deep in the playoffs my sophomore year and experiencing how awesome that was together.

“During this time off, we have been working together to practice. We go hit and field together, and on days my dad cannot catch (for) me, Camryn does. We push each other to work even harder on days when we do not feel like practicing.”

As for Cami, she has been a utility player for the Lady Bears' varsity squad the last few years doing a little bit of everything: catching, fielding, hitting, etc.

In her five outings this season, she connected on seven swings in 22 appearances at the plate. She has scored six runs, earned two base on balls, collected a pair of doubles, as well as knocked out a triple on March 13, to go along with six RBIs and a pair of stolen bases on the year.

In the team's season opener on March 5, Cami finished a perfect 4-for-4 at bat – including a double – scored two runs and brought three of her teammates home.

Given that her junior campaign may indeed be over, she said that it also hasn't hit her that there could be a hiatus for her and her sister on the field together, but she still holds out hope. Her and Payton have been playing this sport since they were six-years-old.

“It's difficult for me because the virus took away my last year of playing with my sister in high school,” said Camryn Bryant. “I know that when it's officially over it will be bittersweet, however, Payton and I are both committed to play softball at Lenoir-Rhyne, and I am looking forward to playing alongside my sister for another three years.

“I have always looked up to Payton, as she has always been an extremely hard-worker and an amazing athlete. That's not to say it's always been easy. We have tried hard to treat each other as teammates and not bring issues on the field. Through the years, we have came to a place where we can pick each other up and always have each other's backs.”

Cami said her favorite memory of the two playing together was when the Lady Bears defeated Fred T. Foard in the conference tournament during her freshman season. She said in that game they held onto a one-run lead with no outs and bases loaded to collect the win.

Cami and Payton have credited their father with learning the ropes of softball but also give appreciation to former Bunker Hill head coach Randy Joines and current head coach Sadie Norris for the improvement in their game.

“Coach Joines taught me that the team always comes before myself and always knew how to pick me up whenever a play or an at bat did not go my way,” said Cami Bryant. “Coach Norris has taught me what it is like to play at the next level, she pushes me each and every day whether it is on the field or in the weight room. Her passion for the game has shown me all the amazing things this sport has to offer.”

Payton shared similar sentiments toward her two coaches:

“Coach Joines had confidence in me even when I did not have it within myself,” she said. “He taught me how to fight through tough and stressful situations. Coach Joines was one of the most encouraging and passionate coaches I have ever played for. Coach Saine (Norris) has pushed me to things I did not think I was even capable of.

“Coach Saine (Norris) believes in every player and has bought in since day one. She is the heart of this team, and I know I can come to her if I ever need anything. I am a much better player for having played for both of these coaches.”

For now, Payton and Camryn will have to wait and see if they get to learn more from Coach Norris during this year as it is still unclear if the 2020 season will resume.