By Jimmy Allinder
There is not a softball player around more dedicated to the game than Julie Raba, but that doesn’t mean she’s all work and no play.
Raba, originally from Milltown and now residing in Helmetta, is a fourth-year starting shortstop for Spotswood High School and recalls a light-hearted moment two years ago during a game with her New Jersey Insanity 18U Gold travel team.
“I was on second base, and the batter laced a ball to the outfield,” Raba said. “I rounded third and headed for home plate but realized I was going to be out by a mile. I tried to juke out the catcher by doing a little dance around her.”
It was funny to watch, but Raba said two college coaches at the game sent her an email informing her they would love for her to play for their team.
Raba will play college baseball for NCAA Division II West Chester University of Pennsylvania following high school graduation, but that’s not the primary reason she’s going there.
“I learned early on from my grandmother, Peg [Raba], academics are more important than sports,” Raba said. “I wouldn’t be allowed to watch TV until my homework was completed, and that habit has stuck with me.”
That habit has enabled Raba to achieve a 3.4 grade-point average at Spotswood, and the senior maintains earning a degree will be her top priority in college.
Raba has combined her natural talent and commitment to softball to become one of the top players in the Greater Middlesex Conference. As a freshman, she batted .488 with a career-high 42 hits, including nine doubles. In the next season, she upped her average to .508 and as a junior, she became one of the most productive hitters in the lineup, again batting .488 with 40 hits and 21 runs batted in.
Raba pitched a few innings last year, but coach Danielle Matlack doesn’t anticipate that will happen this spring. Raba contributes more with her offensive and defensive skills, passion and leadership, Matlack believes.
“Julie has worked very hard and has been like a coach on the field who teaches our younger players,” Matlack said. “I knew she was special during a game her freshman season when she watched her older sister, Lex, struggling during an at-bat. She took it upon herself to call timeout and had a short talk that settled her down.”
The conversation likely centered on what Raba learned about being confident at the plate, a lesson that was ingrained in her mind by her mom.
“She tells me I’m a good hitter because I don’t think,” Raba said. “It’s probably because I’m a very ‘go with the flow’ type of person and just try to have fun.”
Raba has been with her travel team since eighth grade and believes playing with many high school seniors on the roster was what made her become more serious about improving.
“[They] showed me what hard work and dedication was all about, and that has carried me to this point in my career,” Raba said.
Her most memorable moment at Spotswood was her freshman year when she hammered a homer for the game’s only run in a win against then-Blue Division rival Cardinal George McCarrick High School (now closed).
Raba said she inherited her athletic ability and work ethic from her parents, Stacy and Tim — her biggest supporters who are never hesitant to offer criticism when she needs it. Her grandmothers, Peg and Rachel Latin, and Lex have also brought encouragement, and travel coaches Eli Fernandez and Jim Brogan helped with college recruitment. The Spotswood coaching staff has also contributed to her success.
“Coach Matlack and the assistant coaches have been an inspiration for my high school teammates and me,” she said. “They helped turn the program around and are just great people in general.”
Lastly, Raba feels fortunate to play with teammates who she said helps make the game fun. After all, that’s what softball should be all about.