Prep softball: Hart strives to unify Bountiful team
Its name is Spot.
The small metal fence top, painted first in white then covered in black circles, has lived in the Bountiful dugout for years.
At this point, no one quite remembers how or why the polka-dotted emblem came to be. But as the Braves hold hands to form a "spot chain" with the fence knob as the endpoint, Spot's origins don't really matter.
"It's like our own little rally cap. It's just something the team has done forever," senior Payton Hart said. "It just brings us all together."
The same could be said for Hart, a leader of the region champion Bountiful softball team. Her mission has been to change team dynamics during her senior year. She understands the importance of unity because she's seen how things go without it.
"For the first time in a while, this is 'Team Us, not Team I," she said. "We're better top to bottom because of it."
As a senior, she's one of the leading hitters for the Braves. And she's a sister who always stands behind her little sister, Bailey, quite literally.
As the No. 3 hitter in the Braves lineup, Payton does her best at each bat to bring home her lefty, bunt-happy sister. Defensively, Bailey repays the favor, backing up her older shortstop sister at center midfield.
"We've all got each other's backs," Bailey said.
"It's one of the best things about our team this year," Payton said.
The newfound camaraderie paid off in the form of an impressive 21-2 regular season their best showing since 2004 and convincing 14-1 opening round playoff win over Westlake.
Though a narrow second-round loss to Mountain Crest temporarily dampened spirits, the Braves' still had high hopes heading into the losers bracket.
"Our mind-set is to never quit," Payton said. "All we talked about after the loss was having the belief we can still do it."
It's been a season to remember for the Braves. And it's been an even better year for Payton, who will take her talents to Salt Lake Community College next year. The senior has anchored the Braves' offensive effort with nine doubles and three triples entering the week. It's just the kind of solid effort the Braves needed to back up the prolific hitting of pitcher Belle Stoddard, who had five home runs and 12 doubles after the second-round game.
"It's definitely been my best season so far," Payton said. "Just by trying to be a leader and being more vocal, it's really helped my game out."
The lessons already are carrying over to Bailey, who is the third Hart to don a Bountiful jersey.
As a sophomore, the younger Hart has developed a trademark low bunt and quick speed.
"She knows how to lay it down and beat them out," Payton said.
"I just focus on getting on base and running the bases," Bailey said. "I know [Payton] will get a good hit and score me in."
While acknowledging her own improvement, however, Payton gives most of the credit to the Braves' defense, which allowed an average of just more than two runs a game during the regular season.
"[Stoddard] gets her strikeouts, and the rest of us have been there to help her out," Payton said. "It's definitely made the difference for us, and it's something this team can carry into next year."