CHATHAM, NJ - It's the kind of play that's made countless times during the season, but this was different.
Chatham sophomore Julia Yukniewicz hit the ball right at the pitcher in the bottom of the ninth inning. But the ball was dropped and the pitcher made a hurried throw that sailed past first base and into right field as Yukniewicz rounded the bases to score the winning run in the 1-0 state tournament softball victory on Thursday at Shunpike Field.
Julia Yukniewicz sprints around the bases to score the winning run
“I was running around the bases, and I thought I was just going to stop at first or get thrown out, but I just kept running,” Yukniewicz said. “I’ve never run that fast in my life. I’m really excited–I’ve never had a game like this before.”
The win puts third-seeded Chatham (17-8) into the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 state final. The Cougars will play host to the winner of Friday's semifinal matchup between No. 8 Nutley and No. 4 Mendham to decide the sectional championship on Tuesday.
The Yukniewicz dash around the bases overshadowed a brilliant pitching duel between Chatham senior Anna Lengner and Morrigan Gardiner of Cranford (14-6).
Lengner (12-4) pitched a four-hit, 9-inning shutout, striking out 12 and walking one. Gardiner allowed just one hit in the hard-luck loss, striking out 11 and issuing two walks.
The game went two innings before being delayed due to thunder, but once the girls hit the field again, they were determined to get the win.
It was a defensive battle up until the very end, with each pitcher throwing strikeout after strikeout. Lengner’s biggest strikeout of the game came in the 8th inning, with Cranford base runners in scoring position with 2 outs.
Crucial defensive plays included Chatham outfielders, senior Jocelyn Spencer and sophomore Jessica Vespasiano, with Spencer making the play for the third out the 9th and final inning. Spencer also had the only official hit of the game for Chatham, drilling a line drive single to center field.
“This has gotta sink in a little bit, especially the way it ended," Chatham head coach Brian Figueiredo said. "Sometimes these games are won and lost by fluke plays, and that was one of them.
"It was a great game with two good teams that were battling right there, but we found a way to win one here.”