“It’s more than just the weekend:” Irish dominate double-header in tenth-annual Strike Out Cancer showing // The Observer | #students | #parents


Saturday marked Notre Dame softball’s tenth-annual Strike Out Cancer day, during which the team swept their double-header against UNC-Charlotte. Over $20,000 has been raised for childhood cancer patients.

In 2011, Strike Out Cancer began to support leukemia awareness in fellowship with head coach Deanna Gumpf, whose daughter, Tatum, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2010. All proceeds are donated to the Samantha Hickey Foundation and South Bend’s Memorial Children’s Hospital, as well as Indiana childhood cancer patients.

The first edition of Strike Out Cancer took place during the first year of her daughter’s treatment. Though it was ten years ago, Gumpf said that it feels like only yesterday that these events happened. Gumpf recalled that she was unable to stop crying that first year, as it was a “reflection of the entire process of someone you love dealing with cancer.” A sense of pride has since taken over after all that was accomplished.

“This is all about celebrating those who have [made it through hard times], celebrating those who couldn’t get out of those rough times, but always remembering all the friends and family that we’ve made along the way with this road and this journey that we’ve been on,” Gumpf said. “We’ve made it our own, and we’ve made it even bigger, and I love the platform that we have to be able to help other families who are dealing with what we dealt with.”

Because of the pandemic, the event had to be altered in compliance with COVID regulations, with the majority of the celebrations being held virtually. Luckily, the team was still able to host a match at home this weekend.

“We’d never put our Strike Out Cancer game on the schedule because we just weren’t sure how things were going to play out,” Gumpf said. “So to have the opportunity to play Charlotte and have them come here and have them join in the festivities for Strike Out Cancer … it’s just such an awesome opportunity.”

Irish graduate student infielder Katie Marino swings at a pitch during Notre Dame’s 6-5 win over NC State on March 26 at Melissa Cook Stadium.

Gumpf spoke on the importance of carrying on the support during COVID especially. She said that the pandemic made her recall the experience she had with her daughter, during which they kept to their own “bubble” in order to protect her daughter’s compromised immune system during her treatment. This is similar to how people had to act over the past year in order to quell the spread of the coronavirus. Now, families with childhood cancer patients have even tighter bubbles, making the already-difficult situation even harder.

“When you’re at a time when you’re dealing with someone who is so close to you that is battling something so deadly and serious, it’s scary, and these times don’t make it any easier,” Gumpf said.

According to her, the event also highlights a key part of the softball program: the effect the team can have off the field. 

“I think the one thing that we’re known for across the country, other than being a really good softball team, is the fact that we are constantly raising awareness and money for kids who are fighting cancer,” Gumpf said. “We take such pride in that and it is hands down our favorite weekend.”

Gumpf said that all of the team’s recruits know about Strike Out Cancer, the importance of the event being felt before the freshman even step on campus.

“It’s just more than just the weekend,” Gumpf said. “It’s such a big part of who we are as a program.”

Because of this sentiment, the event has also served as an “unofficial alumni weekend,” as so many players return to South Bend for it. Unfortunately, this year’s circumstances have prevented alumni from attending the games. But this does not mean that the support was any less. Gumpf noted that over 20 alumni notified her that they will be wearing orange and will be celebrating via online channels, such as social media.

Though the event is prominent among the Notre Dame community, the importance of Strike Out Cancer is felt throughout the entire conference. Gumpf said that when teams know that they are playing Notre Dame in South Bend, they always ask if they will get to be at the Strike Out Cancer Game.

This year, Charlotte (27-15, 11-5 C-USA) was able to be a part of the initiative. Notre Dame (28-12, 17-10 ACC) emerged victorious from both games, with 3-0 and 11-6 wins, respectively. This added on to the team’s two winning streaks: 11-consecutive games total and 16-consecutive games at home.

At the first game, Tatum Gumpf presented Notre Dame Fight For Life teammate Ivaih with an official Monogram Jacket.

The team carried the momentum throughout the entirety of the first game, completely shutting out Charlotte. Junior pitcher Payton Tidd played a complete-game and sat down the opponent immediately, while a combined effort from junior outfielder Emma Clark, graduate student infielder Katie Marino and freshman infielder Karina Gaskins put the Irish up 2-0 by the bottom of the first.

The next three innings were scoreless for both teams. Though Charlotte charted their first hit of the game in the third, they were still unable to get someone home. Come the fifth, junior catcher Shelby Grimm scored for the Irish on an RBI from senior infielder Sarah Genz to put the team ahead 3-0. This run would be the final run of the game, as both teams were again unable to score in the final innings.

Senior pitcher Alexis Holloway started for the Irish in the second game. Charlotte scored at the top of the first, with a double and single scoring their two runs, respectively. Senior outfielder Abby Sweet began with a double of her own, and eventually made it home after a single from Clark (2-1).

After Holloway sat Charlotte down in order at the top of the second, sophomore outfielder Leea Hanks scored off of an error to tie the score. Genz was on base, and a double from freshman infielder Cassidy Grimm brought Genz home to take the lead (3-2).  

Charlotte came back swinging, with two runners advancing off of a sac bunt. A subsequent single allowed both of them to score (4-3). However, that was all they were able to pocket that inning, as Shelby Grimm and graduate student infielder Chelsea Purcell caught a runner stealing to contribute to the outs total.

Marino notched a solo home run in the third, while a hit from Purcell scored Hanks. Cassidy Grimm clocked her first triple of her career, leading Genz and Holloway home to make the score 7-4. After the 49ers scored twice in the fourth, with senior Morgan Ryan stepping into the circle, Marino reached the plate again. A triple from Genz, the second of her career, scored Hanks to extend the Irish lead to 9-6.

Notre Dame scored again in the sixth, with Hanks hitting her first at-home home run of her career. Freshman catcher and outfielder Carlli Kloss entered the lineup to pinch hit, and eventually reached home after a forced error from sophomore infielder/outfielder Miranda Johnson. The Irish ended the game 11-6.

After the games, Marino and Sweet volunteered to donate 10 inches of their hair to put towards wigs for those fighting childhood cancer. Gumpf and Holloway performed the haircuts, contributing to the “magical weekend” that takes place every year.

“We know we’re helping families and we know we’re helping these kids, and we get to see where the dollars are spent, and to me that’s everything,” Gumpf said. “I know that when things go wrong and you’re dealing with something like cancer, no one can fix that for you. But everybody wants to help and do their part just to make things a little bit easier, and I believe that that’s exactly what we’re doing. We may not be able to change the reality of these families, but we sure can do something to help them, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

People can make a donation to the Strike Out Cancer initiative using this link.
Tags: Abby Sweet, Alexis Holloway, Carlli Kloss, Cassidy Grimm, Chelsea Purcell, Deanna Gumpf, Emma Clark, Karina Gaskins, Katie Marino, Leea Hanks, Morgan Ryan, ND Softball, Payton Tidd, Sarah Genz, Shelby Grimm



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