Notre Dame softball players embracing Strikeout Cancer event

Greg McKenna
ND Insider
The Notre Dame softball program held its annual annual Strikeout Cancer event this past weekend, raising money for local pediatric cancer patients and their families.

SOUTH BEND — Deanna Gumpf has been told the “worst thing” a parent can hear. Cancer.

Her daughter, Tatum, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in July 2010. The Notre Dame softball coach knows what’s it like to care for a 4-year-old weakened by chemotherapy, radiation treatments and medications.

“It was a horrible time for her, my family (and) everybody in this program,” she said in February.

The following season, however, the Irish raised over $12,000 for Memorial Hospital’s pediatric oncology unit and wore orange-trimmed jerseys to promote leukemia awareness during a game against Louisville. Tatum threw out the first pitch.

Eleven years later, Tatum is cancer-free, and the program’s annual Strikeout Cancer event has raised a total of about $500,000 for local pediatric cancer patients and their families. The Irish once again raised funds for pediatric cancer patients and their families this weekend while taking two of three games against ACC foe Georgia Tech.

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The money has paid for gas and lodging for the families of chemotherapy patients, built a game room in Beacon Children’s Hospital and provided children with therapy dogs and Christmas presents. Gumpf said she’s recently worked with doctors to help a patient unable to attend college take beauty school courses.

“We just do anything we can to help make the lives of the families of these kids better,” she said.

This year’s proceeds from Saturday’s trivia night at 1st Source Bank Performance Center and Sunday’s home run derby at Melissa Cook Stadium following the series finale will be donated to the Samantha Hickey Memorial Foundation and Notre Dame’s Harper Cancer Research Institute. According to the team’s MobileCause page on Monday evening, the Irish raised over $44,000 from almost 370 donors.

Notre Dame softball players during their Strikeout Cancer event last weekend.

Gumpf said her players have bought in and made Strikeout Cancer “100%” their event. It’s become an unofficial alumni weekend for the program.

“I can confidently say that (it) is the most meaningful, heartwarming and just fulfilling weekend of the entire year,” said Alexis Holloway, the grad student captain who threw a solo no-hitter in a 10-0 win vs. Loyola Chicago last Tuesday.

Notre Dame softball has been synonymous with winning during the last two decades. Since Gumpf arrived in 2002, the Irish have never missed an NCAA Tournament.

But when professors, athletic trainers and other people on campus find out Holloway is on the softball team, their first question often is, “When’s Strikeout Cancer this year?”

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“I think it’s a great embodiment of what our program is and what we stand for,” said the Crown Point, Ind., native who grew up dreaming of playing for Notre Dame.

The Irish (27-7, 7-3 ACC) entered the series on a nine-game win streak and had outscored opponents 76-13 during that span.

The Irish allowed four runs in the seventh inning and fell to the Yellow Jackets 9-8 on Friday, their first home loss since April 2019.

Notre Dame rebounded with wins in extra innings on Saturday and Sunday. After the Irish erased a six-run deficit in the sixth and seventh innings Saturday, junior Miranda Johnson delivered a walk-off single in the ninth to clinch a 13-12 victory.

Notre Dame also came from behind in the rubber match, overcoming an eight-run deficit in the early innings and again tying the game up in the seventh. Georgia Tech (25-11, 6-9 ACC) regained the lead in the top of the eighth, but with the Irish down to their final out, pitch hitter Joley Mitchell lifted a three-run homer over the center-field wall to win the series.

Holloway did not have her best stuff against the Yellow Jackets. After steadying the ship for the Irish on Friday, the 2021 All-ACC Third-Team selection gave up seven earned runs and retired just one batter over the next two games.

But that doesn’t mean she thinks it was a weekend to forget.

“It’s hard to put into words, she said of Strikeout Cancer, “because it means so much to so many people.”