A true freshman has to prove that he belongs, but it didn't take long for the Braves' Keaton Rice to step up to the plate.

A true freshman has to prove that he belongs, but it didn’t take long for the Braves’ Keaton Rice to step up to the plate.

A 2017 Geneseo graduate, Rice has garnered more than just the respect of his teammates, coaches and Braves fans in his first season catching at Bradley University.

Rice was added to the watchlist for the 2018 Johnny Bench Award which honors college baseball’s top catcher in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I.

“It’s really just an honor,” Rice said. “To be considered amongst the best catchers is collegiate baseball, it’s really cool to be a part of that.”

The finalists will be announced on June 4 with a winner announced at the Annual Greater Wichita Sports Banquet on June 28.

An injury meant Rice was going to see playing time right away, but being the first freshman to start behind the plate for Bradley since 2011 meant that he was going to have to earn the team’s trust.

“The first couple of games, I did well and the trust began to build,” Rice said. “I just kept performing, and they kept trusting me.”

Bradley Assistant Coach Kyle Trewyn pushed Rice getting him ready to step in right away at catcher, and he helped Rice tighten up his swing at the plate to deal with college arms.

Rice has flourished in 31 games this season he’s the second-leading hitter on the Braves with a .340 average.

He’s the only freshman in the Missouri Valley Conference batting better than .287 and he is the league’s only No. 1 catcher hitting better than .274.

He had a walk-off winner against the University of Illinois and has driven in 25 runs so far this season.

Behind the plate this season, Rice has thrown out 14 runners trying to steal, second-most by any catcher in The Valley.

While Rice has put together impressive individual stats so far this season, his focus remains on one thing: helping the team win.

Rice wants to help the Braves make a deep postseason run in the conference tournament and a potentially earn a regional berth.

“Those 30 some guys are putting their faith in you because this is what they want to do with their lives,” Rice said. “To be able to help them out is really cool.”

And after being added to the Johnny Bench list Rice has proven he’s more than capable of helping his team.