MURRAY – Murray’s 37th annual softball tournament over the past weekend had all the same competitiveness to it – on the field and off of it.
Due to the work of the Murray softball staff and outgoing head coach Danny Jensen, there was an even better reason to be at the yard – to ‘Strike Out Cancer.’
Murray softball has felt the brunt of cancer’s nearly unrelenting wave.
Current and former players have both survived the devastating disease and are still spending their days battling.
Saturday brought home one special player in particular Jensen wanted to help gather support for.
Former third baseman Kacie Flaherty is hopeful she is coming to the conclusion of her own battle.
A resident of Omaha, Nebraska, Flaherty came back to her hometown Saturday to be recognized in her current battle with the disease.
At 36 years old, Flaherty is down to her final three treatments in her bout with metastatic stage four breast cancer.
The backing she has received from her hometown is something she is forever grateful for.
“It’s overwhelming. I know the whole town is behind me. I know there are other places I have been throughout my life that are behind me. I definitely draw on those strings,” said Flaherty.
Finding harmony in sentimental objects helps Flaherty go through the day-to-day such as her Murray softball sweatshirt, but being around former teammates and friends and seeing the support displayed Saturday was ideal.
“It’s awesome to see them do well and to see all the familiar faces. Honestly, the best distraction for me is good people and there are a ton of them here that are helping me get through it for a few minutes, to not have cancer,” Flaherty said.
The 36-year-old has become no stranger to infectious disease as she has dedicated her life to working with them.
Flaherty serves as a molecular technologist level three with the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory where she has dealt with foodborne illness, agents of bio-terrorism and vector-borne diseases from mosquitoes.
The 2001 Murray High School graduate found her passion for studying molecular science while working at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, alongside cancer patients.
Her background knowledge has given her an edge with her current doctors that’s made them work for their keep.
“I know just enough science behind what I’m dealing with to be dangerous in asking questions to the doctors,” laughed Flaherty. “I’m making them earn their degrees when they talk to me about some stuff.”
Despite her sharp mind, Flaherty wasn’t asked for any expertise when it came to planning the ‘Strike Out Cancer’ event.
In fact, she felt Jensen’s knowledge of fundraising and t-shirt design over his long tenured career needed little guidance.
Jensen, however, knew how important the event was to the Murray community, those battling the disease and himself.
Over his 40-year career Jensen has built relationships with countless players – enough to call them family alongside three daughters of his own.
“I care about my kids. I’ve considered ... them my daughters while they’ve been playing for me,” Jensen said. “When one of them is dealing with an illness... I knew Kacie was battling it right now. I kind of think it shows you that softball is more than softball.”
For the community of Murray it’s long been more than softball.
Former players such as Flaherty have tangled with cancer, parents of players have trudged through the thick, murky, unsure waters of the disease and even current Lady Mustangs have been affected by it.
Murray starting third baseman Bailey Frederick is no stranger to the disease.
Frederick was diagnosed with stage two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2016 as a freshman in high school.
Now as a junior at Murray High School, Friday’s and Saturday’s events hit home.
“I love being able to play a role in fighting this disease and spreading awareness,” said Frederick. “Sports have always taken up a huge part of my life, and I am always thrilled when we do events dedicated towards making a difference in the lives of those who are struggling.”
Throughout the event, the Mustangs also sold off ‘Strike Out Cancer’ tournament shirts and donated all of the the proceeds to the American Cancer Society.
Pink shirts lined the fences down the first and third baseline and the t-shirts were sold out before Saturday’s play came to a close.
The experience grew exponentially for Frederick as she spoke with players and families alike about the disease, the upcoming season and even opposing players.
Support goes far and wide, but finding it at home was extra special for the Lady Mustang junior.
“Having all the Murray softball alumni there throughout the tournament this weekend was an incredible feeling,” said Frederick. “I believe that Murray is a tight knit community, and it’s always exciting to see all the people come back home to support our athletic teams.”
Using the local webbing
Eight teams battled their way through the bracket for a championship plaque, but each strikeout along the way had an extra meaning.
Jensen, Frederick and the Lady Mustangs put an added value on the strikeout as fans could pledge a dollar amount per strikeout per game to donate to the event’s efforts.
For those familiar with the current Murray pitching staff, ‘Ks’ don’t typically come in small batches either.
In three games, the duo of Bre Klein and Kayla Wookey managed to sit down 39 of the 63 batters they faced via the strikeout over the course of the tournament.
Murray’s ‘Strike Out Cancer’ softball tournament was not only a way to help raise money to find a cure for the disease, but to show the support and the base the town of approximately 1,200 people has.
But those roots extend much further than just the town itself.
Players from every school that entered into the weekend’s bracket wanted to be introduced in honor of their family and friends who have battled the deadly disease.
It wasn’t a spectacle for show or youthful exuberance. It was a genuine, honest remembrance of anyone who had touched their life and had been affected by cancer.
Several visiting players made a point to visit the press box to make sure they could take the field in honor of those who have struggled or are currently struggling with the disease.
Nodaway Valley even made changes to its uniform to show its solidarity with the cause, showing up with pink buttons.
“I talked to several Seymour and Melcher kids because I know some of them and they thought it was great that we were able to shout out a name that they are playing for,” said Jensen. “I think it just shows that we care.”
“Events such as our Strike Out Cancer Tournament gives us all an opportunity to connect on a completely different level rather than just as competitors or rivals,” said Frederick.
Eight teams, their fans and a strong Murray base came together over the weekend for a common goal.
Friday and Saturday had a lot of softball, but the ability to find the competitiveness against one outlet far outweighed the game being played on the diamond.