Former State College standout making her mark on the diamond for Penn State
Hannah Shields, a State College native and now a contributor on the Penn State softball team, remembers waiting in her driveway with a glove in hand and bat by her side. She waited and waited until her father, Gene, came home from work at quarter till four — and when he did, the 11-year-old asked him the same thing, day after day: “Dad, can we go across the street?”
Dalevue Park and its ball field sits within sight of the Shields’ home on Goldfinch Drive. Gene couldn’t say no.
And he’s happy he didn’t. He’s proud of Hannah’s commitment to softball at a young age — and now excited that his daughter gets to live out her dream of playing at Penn State.
“For me, spending all those years catching her across the street from our house, going to all the practices, it’s awesome,” Gene Shields said this week. “It’s a very humbling experience. We’re all really fortunate that she’s able to play there.”
Added Hannah: “When Penn State became an option, it was like, ‘Wow, this is something I really want.’”
The former star Lady Little Lion, after pitching two years at Delaware State, is an often-utilized right-hander for Penn State, both in the rotation and out of the bullpen. Entering Saturday, Shields owned a 3.57 ERA (third on team) and 1.14 WHIP (second on team) while walking only two of 145 batters faced.
Shields said avoiding walks by attacking the zone was a goal entering the season, and she’s living up to that self-set standard. Penn State senior Tori Dubois added that her new teammate brings a “presence” to the pitching circle, one she developed four hours south.
Shields, who recorded 92 strikeouts her senior season at State High, picked Delaware State over a host of smaller programs like Longwood, Fairfield, Bryant and St. Francis. She didn’t receive real interest from Penn State. The pitcher went on an unofficial visit as a sophomore; but, as Nittany Lions head coach Amanda Lehotak recounts, by time Shields really showed up on the staff’s radar, it had already signed its pitcher for that recruiting cycle.
Shields was glad it turned out that way. The righty excelled in Dover, Del., as a freshman. She recorded a team-high eight wins, two shutouts and a 3.71 ERA and landed on the MEAC All-Tournament first team after throwing 16 shutout innings of 17.2 pitched in the conference postseason. As a sophomore, Shields again led Delaware State in wins with seven.
“When I was in the recruiting process, a lot of my classmates from State High decided to go to Penn State, and I wanted to explore my options and try to experience something outside State College,” Shields said. “We’re in our own little bubble, so I wanted to get out. And I’m blessed to have had my experience outside State College. ... But it was time for me to leave in order for me to grow as a person academically and athletically.”
As last season came to an end, Shields was granted her release from Delaware State so she could speak with other programs — but there was really only one school in mind. Shields’ college roommate, Micaela Cummings, has a sister, Jessica, who played softball at Penn State. Cummings, who finished her Nittany Lion career in 2018, suggested that Hannah send Lehotak an email.
“The rest is history,” Shields said, smiling.
Lehotak and the transfer target met after Delaware State’s conference tournament, and the coach asked Shields two questions: Why Penn State, and what are you going to bring?
“She is one of the few athletes I can say that everything she said in that meeting came true,” Lehotak said. “Work ethic, honesty, study of the game. She promised me she’d be great in the classroom, which she’s been. She promised she’d be great in the community, which she’s been. She hasn’t broken a promise.”
She’s proven to be a reliable teammate, as well. Per NCAA rules, Shields was not allowed to participate in any workouts with the team this past summer. But she showed up anyway — not to work out, but to motivate — and the Nittany Lions noticed. Dubois said when the team ran hills in 85-degree heat, Shields’ encouragement “inspired others to work harder.” And when Shields could finally train with the team, she took advantage of her opportunity.
Of course, while the junior generally exudes a calm, fun demeanor, she dealt with her own nerves. Those were ratcheted up in her first appearance for the blue and white at Beard Field, a fall game against Lock Haven.
Outside of a high school all-star game, the only other time Shields pitched in a game at Beard Field was State College’s district title game her senior year. The Lady Little Lions lost to Mifflin County 9-1, ending their season and closing Shields’ high school career. Her father, Gene, remembered that being a “tough” day.
But Sept. 22 brought different emotions. Shields came on in relief against Lock Haven, and as she stood in the Beard Field circle, she looked around. She saw her parents, her family, her friends — even State College little league softball players waving wildly toward her. Shields called it a “surreal” moment.
“I had butterflies in my stomach,” Shields said. “But it was amazing. Second to none.”
Come February, those jitters disappeared. Shields — the local kid who went from Dalevue Park to Beard Field — settled in at Penn State like Lehotak thought she could, becoming a leader and valuable arm.
“I think Hannah’s made a bigger impact on this team than she even knows,” Dubois said. “She’s a role model for our pitching staff. ... I’m excited to see what she has to offer the rest of the year and in her senior year.”
Added Lehotak: “She’s done nothing but get better and better. She’s been a huge part of our success this year, and I see her continuing to be a huge part of our success.”