CINCINNATI -- Pulaski County High School softball sophomore Riley Hull has thrived on pressure-packed situations throughout her high school career, as a hitter at the plate and defending the plate as a catcher.
But on Tuesday night at the Cincinnati Reds' Great American Ball Park, the two-time All-State catcher experienced the all-time highest pressure-packed situation. Standing on the Great American Ball Park playing field in front of a Major League Baseball crowd, Hull was introduced as the Johnny Bench award winner for softball in the state of Kentucky. And Hull, and the other prestigious award winners, were all greeted by Reds' Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench.
"Well at first when you walk onto the field, your breath is kind of taken from you because you're on The Great American with 'THE' Johnny Bench," Hull stated. "It sunk in when we were all together on the field. The fans were also very supportive and amazing."
"When I met Johnny (Bench), first he was very excited to meet us all, very upbeat and told us all congratulations and how big of a deal this truly is," Hull added.
Hull, and the other Johnny Bench award winners, were invited to Cincinnati on Tuesday for an awards luncheon at Great American Ball Park and a baseball and softball catching clinic at the P&G MLB Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy. Hull, and the other Johnny Bench award winners, were honored that evening on the field during pregame ceremonies before the Reds and Houston Astros game.
The Bench Award honored a total of ten catchers and include the top female college softball catcher along with the top high school baseball and softball catchers from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia.
This was the first year that female fast-pitch softball catchers were honored, and Hull pointed out that this shows how much softball has grown over the years.
"What I experienced tonight though was truly that softball is growing and getting all the support it needs," Hull stated. "The recognition we all got tonight was just breathtaking as well. It was an honor to be given this award for the first time the award was expanded to women's fastpitch."
Hull, who will be entering her junior year at Pulaski County High School next school year, has already achieved great success in the sport of fast-pitch softball. After playing softball on the varsity Ballard High School team as a middle schooler, Hull committed to Mississippi State University. In her past two seasons playing for Coach Brad Gover's Lady Maroons, Hull has been named to the All-State Team both seasons.
Hull's 2019 softball stats were phenomenal as she maintained a .589 batting average, a .622 on base percentage and a .953 slugging average for the season. Hull scored 48 runs, drove in 54 runs, hit two homers, eight triples and 17 doubles. At the catcher's position, Hull had a team-high 171 putouts, picked off eight base runners, and gunned down 10 runners trying to steal base.
Hull's amazing stats, and the fact that she had already been offered a college scholarship by a D-1 softball program, made her the clear choice to receive the Bench Award as the top softball catcher in the state of Kentucky. Prior the Tuesday night, Hall of Famer Johnny Bench talked about Hull's amazing accomplishments.
"It's already a prestigious award and the only way we could make it better was to bring it to Cincinnati and at the same time honor the best softball women catchers in college," said Bench. "And now working with the Reds we can also recognize the top high school baseball and softball catchers from across Reds Country."
"Pulaski County's Riley Hull led all finalists in all statistics and was the clear choice," stated Johnny Bench in a recorded video announcing the award winners. "Pre-season, she was ranked 85th in the country, and this was coming off her freshman year as a sophomore. She has already committed to Mississippi State."
Committing to Mississippi State University, after coming out of middle school, and receiving the Johnny Bench award are two big highlights in Hull's young career.
"I don't think I can really compare the feeling because it was two different experiences but if I would compare the emotions," Hull explained on Tuesday night. "I was just as nervous and excited at the same time getting this award and committing to Mississippi State."
"When I was little, I never really imagined being where I am today," Hull admitted. "Playing softball just is a lifestyle to many girls just like me. It all starts with just having a love for the game and getting this award really just shows that working hard can get you to far places. But at the end of the day, I really just have to thank God, my mom Angie Taylor, my coach Brad Gover, and all my teammates for always pushing me to be my best. I couldn't have done this without any of them."
Hull's award was also a humbling experience for her high school softball coach Brad Gover.
"Pretty nice knowing you get to coach a talent like that," Gover gleamed. "I'm honored to be able to coach her. She raises the bar for everyone she's around. Unbelievable kid that has a huge passion for the game. Having a player at her level on the team opens the door for a lot of our other players do to the recognition and attention that she brings to our program."
"It didn't surprise me a bit that she got the award," Gover vaunted. "I don't think there's any doubt she's the best catcher in this state, in my mind. What people don't realize is that she can play any position and be one of the best at it in the state. She's that gifted and she's got two more years to show her talents for Pulaski Softball. Just a special talent."
STEVE CORNELIUS is the CJ Sports Editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @CJSportseditor.