UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As a native of Sugar Land, Texas, Shelby Miller knew she wanted to leave her home state when it came time for college. She was ready to find a better fit and continue her softball career in a new place.
The second she stepped foot onto Penn State's campus, immediately seeing the people and the spirit, she was sold and ready to bleed blue and white throughout her collegiate career. Now, a few weeks into the 2014 season, the freshman is dominating at the plate and has really proved herself as one of the Lions' key starters.
"Shelby is playing great, especially for a freshman," said head coach Amanda Lehotak. "She struggled a little bit this fall. Freshman usually come in and taste failure for the first time, and she kind of went through that, but I give all the credit in the world to Shelby. She really grew up over break and the month of January, and she has shown great character. She just is really learning a deep understanding of the game, is being a tough out right now, and is really doing great for a freshman at this level."
Miller currently leads the Lions' in hitting with a .429 batting average and has recorded at least one hit in each of the team's last three games.
This past weekend alone, Miller went 2-for-3 against No. 5 Kentucky and drove in the team's only run of the game. Nevertheless, Miller does not like to overthink these accomplishments, as she believes producing at the plate is a mental battle.
"Batting is mainly about confidence," said Miller. "If you think you're going to get a hit, you're going to get a hit. I know to stay playing and to stay in the lineup, I have to hit and do my job."
While the freshman thinks of hitting in a mental sense, her coach feels Miller's overall athleticism is the true key to her offensive success. Lehotak also believes Miller's athleticism is an integral part of the team's defense. The freshman originally came to Penn State as an infielder, but has been incredibly flexible, demonstrating her ability to play in a number of positions for the Lions.
"She's probably one of our biggest well-rounded athletes," said Lehotak. "She's a triple threat from the left side, which is super fun. She can bunt, slap, and hit, which just opens up her field for success. We don't have a lot of that right now, so that is a huge part of our line-up that we need and she provides. Then really, back to her athleticism, she came here as an infielder. With her being able to play so many positions, we can move her to the outfield right now so she can keep learning the infield."
Miller's freshman status makes her stellar play all the more impressive and really increases the overall depth of this Penn State squad, which is something her coach truly appreciates.
"Whenever a freshman can come in and get playing time right away, it just makes you that much stronger as a team," said Lehotak of Miller. "Everybody loves freshman, but you really don't know what to expect. It's such a different level mentally, physically, and academically. For a freshman to be able to come up, step in, and kind of grab and maintain that starting role is huge. It just allows you to do more with your offensive and defensive lineup."
Headed into this weekend, the team will travel to Virginia for the JMU invitational. While Miller is very happy with her personal success, she has one major goal on her mind for these next few games - winning.
"I want to beat everyone," said Miller. "We need to get our record back where it needs to be, and I just want to go out there and blow out everyone. We need to get back to where we were the first couple weekends."
Lehotak wants the same thing from her team as Miller. She expects to see her team fight and to see her team demonstrate extreme mental toughness.
"I just expect us to get back to the little things, doing the little things well," said Lehotak. "I would like to see some more fight from us. The first two weeks, I really complimented us on our fight, and then this past week, I felt like we got frustrated and lost our fight, which I think is just part of learning and part of the grind. Week three is always that week where you get kind of tired from all the traveling and everything. Hopefully, we get back to that grind a little bit and get back to our style of softball versus letting outside factors of umpires and things like that take control of us. We need to get back to controlling what we can control and playing our style of ball."