Notre Dame looks forward to facing No. 24 Arkansas on Strikeout Cancer weekend
Benjamin Padanilam | Friday, April 28, 2017
With just two weeks until the ACC championship tournament, Notre Dame will host No. 24 Arkansas for a nonconference series as part of its seventh annual Strikeout Cancer weekend.
The Irish (28-18, 11-10 ACC) are coming off a 10-2 mercy-rule victory over Northwestern on Tuesday, and now they will look to build up their resume as they near the NCAA regionals with a series against a nationally-ranked Razorbacks squad.
Despite a poor record in conference play, the Razorbacks (29-18, 6-15 SEC) should pose a serious challenge to the Irish, head coach Deanna Gumpf said. Their conference record is deceptive in that they are one of 10 ranked SEC teams, and they boast a staff ERA of 2.45 on the season.
“Arkansas does a lot of things well,” Gumpf said. “I would say it starts in the pitching circle. They have four really good pitchers, and I think it starts right there for them. And they’re a very powerful team. … We have to play good softball.”
The weekend matchup marks the second unusual schedule occurrence for the Irish this week: Tuesday’s game against Northwestern was just the second time this season the Irish have gone on the road for a midweek matchup, and the first that was not over a break in the academic school year, while the series with Arkansas will be the first weekend series in recent memory for the Irish that was not against a conference foe.
“It’s never happened before, but I don’t think it matters on this weekend,” Gumpf said of playing non-conference weekend games at this point in the season. “I think any opponent is a good opponent and, quite frankly, having Arkansas come in is awesome because they’re a ranked team, they’re really good, they’re SEC and they’re going to prepare us for regionals, and that’s what we want.”
In order to come away with a victory, Gumpf said the Irish will have to stick to the successful formula that netted them their five-inning triumph over the Wildcats on Tuesday: an aggressive mindset that results in them attacking the Razorbacks pitching staff from start to finish.
“We have to attack the ball,” Gumpf said. “We have to make things happen early. We know we have to put bat on ball, and I think if we do that and put the ball hard on the ground, we’re going to make a lot of good things happen.”
This weekend is especially important to the Irish because it marks the program’s seventh annual Strikeout Cancer weekend. As part of the weekend, Gumpf said 14 children who are currently battling cancer will be in attendance for Saturday’s doubleheader, and the program will look to build on the over $185,000 it has raised for pediatric cancer patients in the previous six years of the event.
“This is our favorite weekend of the year,” Gumpf said. “I think if you ask any player on our team who has played before, they will say this is by far their favorite weekend of the year. And I think it’s because we’re playing for more than just the game; we’re playing for more than just ourselves; we’re playing for something bigger. And when you’re able to put that orange [uniform] on and know that you’re playing for all these kids who are fighting cancer.
“ … When you have those kids there watching you and you’re playing for them, I think it makes the game a little easier. I think it makes the game not so crazy. I love the fact that we’re able to give back to families who are struggling and who are fighting right now.”
The Irish and Razorbacks will first take the field for a doubleheader Saturday — with the games scheduled for 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. — before wrapping up the series Sunday with first pitch scheduled for noon.