Easley Wins Prestigious Johnny Bench Award

WICHITA, Kansas - Mississippi State junior catcher Edward Easley added the biggest award of his career to an already impressive list late Wednesday night, being named the recipient of the 2007 Coleman Company Johnny Bench Award as the nation's top collegiate catcher. He becomes the third Southeastern Conference player to win the award since it was first presented in 2000.

"This is like a dream come true… something I'll cherish forever," said Easley. "Just to be among the finalists with the other great college catchers and their impressive resumes is a tremendous honor. Johnny Bench is the greatest catcher to ever live, and to receive an award named after him, to receive the trophy from him and get to spend a day with him here in Wichita has been the biggest thrill of my life."

Bench, the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame catcher, presented the award at the 10th annual Greater Wichita Sports Banquet held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Wichita.

Easley's parents, Mike and Tanna Easley and Edward's position coach at Mississippi State, Wade Hedges, were on hand for the ceremony.

Easley, from Olive Branch, Miss., and a supplemental first round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks, was one of three finalists for the award, joining Florida State's Buster Posey and Georgia Tech's Matt Wieters in the final round of voting.

The Johnny Bench Award is the latest in an impressive list of honors for the Bulldogs' three-year standout. Easley was tabbed the recipient of the Cellular South Ferriss Trophy, given annually to the top collegiate baseball player in Mississippi. He was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference catcher and earned and received all-America team honors by the American Baseball Coaches Association (Rawlings), the National Collegiate baseball Writers Association (Pro-Line Athletics), and Collegiate Baseball magazine (Louisville Slugger).

Easley compiled a career-best .358 batting average and started all 60 games behind the dish for Mississippi State University's 2007 College World Series edition. He led MSU with 59 runs scored, a career-high 87 hits, 12 home runs and 63 RBI. He compiled a .994 fielding percentage in the just concluded season and threw out 29 runners attempting stolen bases, the most among catchers in the Southeastern Conference.

Easley is expected to travel on to Phoenix, Ariz., Thursday, undergo physical exams and complete contract signing arrangements with the Diamondbacks, and then dress out for batting practice with the Diamondbacks at Chase Field prior to Arizona's Thursday afternoon game with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He will then travel on to Yakima, Wash., to begin his professional baseball career with the Diamondbacks' Northwest League franchise, the Yakima Bears.

The seven previous winners of the Johnny Bench Award include 2006-Jake Smith (East Carolina University), 2005-Jeff Clement (Southern California), 2004- Kurt Suzuki (California State-Fullerton), 2003-Ryan Garko (Stanford), 2002-Jeremy Brown (Alabama), 2001-Kelly Shoppach (Baylor), and 2000-Brad Cresse (Louisiana State).

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