Strike Out Cancer game hits close to home for Oregon softball

Cancer patient throws out first pitch (0:56)

Holly Svekis, mother of Oregon catcher Gwen Svekis, battling Stage 3 breast cancer throws out the first pitch in Oregon's 7-2 win over Oregon State. (0:56)

EUGENE, Ore. - Oregon catcher Gwen Svekis has seen thousands of pitches in her time behind the plate. Most are routine -- changeups, fastballs or perhaps the occasional wild pitch.

But Saturday's ceremonial first pitch was far from typical for Svekis.

Her mom, Holly -- who is between chemotherapy treatments for Stage 3 breast cancer -- traveled from South Florida to deliver the first pitch for the team's Strike Out Cancer game.

Before her pitch, Holly spent time at home tuning up her pitching skills. She said she didn't want to embarrass her daughter. So, it was no surprise that her delivery didn't miss by much.

Then, Holly high-fived the Ducks one by one before Oregon's 7-2 win over rival Oregon State.

"Just the love and outpouring from these kids is incredible," Holly said. "It's been really exhilarating being out here with everyone and sharing the moment."

Doctors surprised Holly last weekend when they cleared her for travel during a 10-day break from treatment. After her diagnosis in early February, she figured she'd miss her annual trip to Eugene for Pac-12 play.

Instead, she got two weekends of softball -- this weekend and next, when the Ducks host Florida State -- and an experience with her daughter that she won't soon forget.

"It was indescribable," Gwen said. "I know it was the best moment for my mom. That's really all that matters to me. I can't even tell you how much joy that pitch brought her."

Proceeds from a silent auction and raffle tickets during the game benefited the nearby Willamette Valley Cancer Institute. The Ducks sported custom uniforms complete with pink finishes from head to toe.

Ducks coach Mike White called the moment priceless.

At first, Gwen held her mom's diagnosis close to her; she didn't publicize it much -- not telling the team for a month. But now her teammates are there for unwavering support. The team wears pink bracelets inscribed with "The Inconvenient Journey" -- an homage to Holly's Facebook page documenting her cancer journey.

Gwen saw her mom on Thursday for the first time since Holly began treatment. She said Holly's approach has been encouraging, especially given the distance between Florida and Oregon.

"My mom has such a positive attitude that it's almost impossible to be negative. ... Softball has really been an escape for me during this time," Gwen said. "She's positive and responding well, but cancer's cancer. And we're still terrified every day that it might change."

Holly has seen an outpouring of support from the softball community. The Florida State team sent handwritten notes. Oregon outfielder Cherish Burks made her a green-and-yellow beanie. LSU pitcher Carley Hoover sent flowers.

And Holly might have trouble fitting all her weekend care packages in her luggage for the flight home.

"The softball community that I've known for all these years -- the people we've touched -- have just been unreal," Holly said. "I'm a competitive person, so it makes me each day want to fight for getting to the next day."

Holly's husband, Steve, plans to join her in Eugene for next weekend's series against Florida State. Then they'll head back to Florida for another nine months of treatment.

Steve said 2017's installment of the Strike Out Cancer game took on new meaning. Never before had the Svekis family had a personal connection to breast cancer. But as soon as they did, they found support in the sport they love.

"It's indicative of the strength of humanity," Steve said, "and the women in our lives -- the heroes and mothers of our children."