Hanna Hull and Eliot Ness have something in common. One was Untouchable. The other is very nearly so.
Hull, Virginia Wesleyan’s exceptional freshman pitcher from Clover Hill High School, has during the past three months seized the attention not only of the ODAC but also of NCAA Division III. She ranks first nationally in victories (24-2), second in strikeouts (275 in 157⅓⅓ innings) and fourth in earned run average (0.53).
She ranks first as well in an unofficial personal category: unexpected success.
“It’s been a total surprise, definitely,” she said. “My goal” when she reported for fall practice “was to help the team as much as I could and hopefully start some and pitch on a regular basis. I never dreamed of anything like this.”
Perhaps she should have. Hull, a 5-foot-8 left-hander, was a first-team All-Metro performer as a Clover Hill senior. Since arriving at Virginia Wesleyan, she has acquired one of the few weapons she lacked at Clover Hill. Call it, for lack of a more precise term, swagger.
“I tended to get down on myself pretty easily in high school,” she said. “I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence.” Her first season at Virginia Wesleyan, she said, has taught her that “everybody has bad days. When it happens to you — and it will — you’ve just got to let it go. You’ve got to be tough enough and you’ve got to believe in yourself enough to find a way to push through.”
Self-assurance, once a stranger, has become an ally. Though consistently buoyant off the field, Hull now carries a predator’s mindset into the pitching circle on game days.
“Whether it’s their best hitter or a pinch hitter, my approach is, ‘You can’t touch me,’ ” said Hull.
“I guess that sounds cocky. It’s not meant to be. That’s just the way you have to think. There are some awesome hitters” in the ODAC. “I know their stats. When I face them, I’m thinking: ‘She’s good. I know she’s good. But my stuff is better.’ ”
More often than not, it has been. Hull was selected seven times as the ODAC pitcher of the week, including five citations in as many weeks at season’s end. She was chosen three times as the national pitcher of the week. She was announced Tuesday as the ODAC’s rookie of the year and pitcher of the year. She was selected as the most outstanding player of last week’s ODAC tournament in Salem.
Marlins coach Brandon Elliott said Hull’s remarkable season is the sum of several factors: abundant talent, an “impeccable” work ethic and a willingness to accept instruction.
“I knew from the moment she committed that she was going to be something special,” said Elliott. “So, no — that part of it, how good she is, hasn’t surprised me. What has surprised me is her maturity. She’s a freshman who never really acted like a freshman. Almost from the beginning, she approached the game like an upperclassman with a lot of experience.”
It shows. The Marlins will carry a 43-2 record and a No. 1 national ranking into next week’s NCAA tournament opener. Hull said her team is to a large extent responsible for her individual success.
“I wouldn’t be anywhere without the love and support of my teammates,” she said. “They’ve always been there to pick me up — even when I’m not having my best game. The confidence they have in me allows me to have confidence in myself.”