CHATHAM, NJ — In her four varsity seasons playing for the Chatham High softball team, Julia Yukniewicz has been known for her pitching prowess.
Over the last five games, however, the senior has been on a tear with the bat that has been jaw-dropping for Chatham coach Brian Figueiredo.
“In my 19 years of softball, no one has been as hot as her in this stretch. Nobody,” Figueiredo said. “What she’s doing at the plate, I’ve personally never seen. She’s consistently stinging the ball. Honestly, I’ve never had a player this hot for this long.”
During the five-game stretch in which Chatham won four of the games, Yukniewicz has 12 hits in 19 at-bats for a .632 average and has driven home 12. Those 12 hits have included two home runs, a triple and a double.
Julia Yukniewicz is the Chatham Wealth Management Athlete of the Week.
Figueiredo isn’t the only one noticing. In Monday’s 5-4 win over Morris Knolls, Yukniewicz was intentionally walked twice. She finished with one hit and two runs scored and also pitched the distance for the win.
“I was kind of upset about that, but it was pretty cool to be intentionally walked twice by a team that is that good,” Yukniewicz said. “There were certain situations where I was up and knew exactly where to hit it. I felt ready to hit. ‘Nope, you’re going to walk.’ It was a little frustrating.”
Last year, the 2020 season was canceled because of the virus pandemic, but Yukniewicz turned that situation into a positive by working harder on her game.
“Since there was no season last year, I had more time to focus on my hitting,” she said. “I’ve gotten stronger and I worked a lot more on my mechanics and the little details, like my footing and where I hold my bat and little stuff that I never paid much attention to. The work I put in is paying off.”
Her pitching has been pretty impressive, too. The right-hander has 54 strikeouts in her 49.2 innings for a 2.82 ERA. Her repertoire includes a fastball, curve, screwball, changeup, riser and drop.
“She works extremely hard at her craft,” Figueiredo said. “She’s doing all the little things that pitchers do, locating and throwing any pitch in any count. She’s gone from being a thrower to a pitcher.”
The 5-8, 130-pound Yukniewicz grew up in a family of baseball/softball pitchers, so there was never any doubt that she’d be on the mound.
“I’ve been around it my whole life,” the 18-year-old said. “My dad, uncles and aunts were all pitchers. My dad (Walter) has been a big influence on me. He pushes me to work hard. He pitched for Hunterdon Central and he understands the mental part of the game. Usually, he has something to say about what I can improve on. Recently, he’s been pretty quiet, which is nice.”
Yukniewicz noted that she’s been able to stay positive by using what she does on the pitching mound to help her at bat and visa versa.
“Coming off the mound if I’m upset with myself and I wasn’t pitching great, I’ll go up and be like ‘I have to do my job hitting now’,” she said. “I’ll bring that frustration from the mound to my hitting. And if I do well with my hitting, it sort of calms me down with my pitching. I went to a winter pitching camp and the whole second half was about how to stay mentally strong in the game.
“I’m just up there having fun. There are so many coaches and players who try to get into your head. The whole game is a mind game. It’s so mental. That’s why I like to be so positive. Things are going to go wrong, you just have to get past it and go to the next challenge. It’s just part of the game.”
Yukniewicz will continue playing for the University of Scranton next year. In the meantime, all the seven-day-week training sessions she logged have allowed her to enjoy her senior season.
“My curve and changeup have been working pretty well,” she said. “It’s honestly one of the best feelings when you throw a changeup and the girl is all off balance or she swings and misses a riser that’s over her head.
“I’m having a lot of fun. The girls on the team help a lot, too. We’re always happy to be around each other and it’s really a great environment to be in. We’re such a contagious team. When we’re all doing our job, it’s so much fun.”
Yukniewicz was the secondary pitcher behind Anna Lengner in 2019 when Chatham won the NJSIAA North Jersey, Group 3 title and reached the state championship game. She pitched and played third base on that title team. As a freshman, she was mostly an outfielder.
Yukniewicz came into the season with one career homer. This season she has three and has knocked in 18 runs in 10 games.
“I use all of the power in my body that I can,” she said. “I hit it as hard as I can. I just go up and I try my best. I’m just trying to do what I can for my team.”
Editor’s note: The Athlete of the Week is sponsored by Chatham Wealth Management in recognition of the commitment a Chatham athlete has made to their sport, their school and their community. For over twenty years, Chatham Wealth Management has been committed to putting our clients first by crafting customized investment solutions. Call us at 973-635-4275 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how we can help meet your financial goals. To learn more about our products and team, visit us at www.chathamwealth.com.