The stories behind the homers that built the legend of HR queen Jocelyn Alo
8: 00 AM ET
Alex ScarboroughESPN Staff Writer
- Covers the SEC.
- Joined ESPN in 2012.
- Graduate of Auburn University.
Before she ever dreamed of putting on an Oklahoma uniform, before she ever landed in Norman, launched her first collegiate home run and emerged as a power-hitting superstar, before she did the unthinkable and broke the NCAA career home run record, Jocelyn Alo was a 10-year-old growing up along the north shore of O’ahu, poised to take the first step in a long and historic journey.
The 45-minute drive that day from her small village of Hau’ula to Waipi’o went by faster than normal as she felt a wave of excitement. They were on their way to CORPS Field, which had 12 new baseball and softball diamonds. She wouldn’t be playing softball. She was the only girl on East Side Park Rats’ baseball team. She had just bought a new bat, a sleek, black and silver Easton Omen. It felt like Thor’s hammer in the hands.
During her first at-bat, she got a pitch she liked, a breaking ball, but she was so anxious that she was a little further out onto her front foot than she’d like to be when she made contact. Still, it felt good, solid. It was unlike anything she had ever experienced. She said it felt effortless as she swung through her ball and watched the ball fly toward center field. It was roughly 240 feet to the wall in dead center, and the ball just kept going and going and going — back, back, gone.
Not only was it the first outside-the-park home run she’d ever hit, it was the first time anyone had hit it over the fences at the new field. She can still recall how powerful that moment was a decade later. She went insane as she covered all bases, including herself.
“It’s a pretty addictive feeling,” she said before making an admission. “I like watching the ball fly, I love it. “
It’s a good thing, because later in the same game she watched her second career home run fly away. Her memory is amazing. The left-field fence measured about 200 feet, she recalled, and she cleared it. The second homer was not like the first. She sent a clear message to the boys demanding their respect: “I come there to play.” You know what? I don’t just come here to stand around. “
She’d eventually compete in home run derbies, and because she’s Jocelyn Alo Home Run Queen, she’d win.
“All the boys would be pissed off,” she said, “and I’m like, ‘Well, you know what? Be better. “
Eventually, she’d leave the boys behind, becoming one of the most sought-after recruits in college softball, signing with Oklahoma and immediately laying claim as one the best power hitters in the game. She’s now a fifth-year senior and has climbed the home run charts, surpassing former Sooners greats Jessie Harper, Stacey Nuveman, Jessie Harper, and Laura Espinoza. She’s looking to continue her lead ahead of her last NCAA tournament.
This is the story of her journey, told through pivotal stops along the way.
Home run No. 1
It took only five innings and two at-bats for Alo to launch her first collegiate home run. The date was Feb. 9, 2018. Weber State was the opponent.
Alo remembers it well: “It went over left-center field at GCU. “
Everyone else in the Oklahoma dugout at Grand Canyon University for the season opener that day remembers it, too, mostly because they all seemed to sense it was coming. JT Gasso was not surprised that her first homer came so quickly. He knew she had a rare natural talent. He watched her go round the bases and thought, “Here we are.” This is the beginning of it. “
Why all that confidence in a true freshman? Because she was a star right from the beginning. Oregon offered her a scholarship for seventh grade. Cal did the same one year later and she signed. Fast forward to her junior year in high school and the softball community was abuzz when Alo, the power hitter from Hawaii, reopened her recruitment.
JT recalls hearing the news at the ballpark. He immediately opened YouTube to search for clips of Alo hitting. He was stunned by what he saw.
“The very first thing that comes up when you typed her name back then was her wrestling video, and so I’m watching it like, ‘What the heck is this?'” He recalled. “And I kept watching it and she separated her opponent’s shoulder to win and it was like, ‘Oh. My. Goodness.’ It was a physical manifestation of the game that is hard to see in players. It was amazing. “
Alo, as it turns out, was the girls’ state wrestling champ.
JT called Patty Gasso his mother and said, “You must watch this. You will be amazed at what you see. “
“A dislocated shoulder later and I’m like, ‘Uh, I need her,'” Patty said.
It was a difficult task to recruit her. It was no easy task for the staff to dress Norman up and give it a Polynesian look. They did what they could.
Sure, she had to get used to being so far away from home and the different style of food. She had to learn to lift weights, to condition and all the other things that freshmen have to go through. Alo was ready-made for college softball when she got a bat in her hand.
Patty said her attitude, which was revealed in that YouTube clip, helped.
“She just had this look of not being denied,” she said. “And that’s probably the one thing that has stayed with me since the first time I saw her. She has been granted all she has ever wanted or hoped for. “
Home run No. 30
— NCAA Softball (@NCAASoftball) June 2, 2018
Even before Alo hit her first home run, Lynnsie Elam was impressed by what she saw on the travel ball circuit. She said that Alo’s home run was a sign she was on a different level. “
When Elam arrived at Oklahoma later as part of a four-person freshman class, it was more of the same. Elam, Eliyah Flores, and Alexa Shultz experienced the typical rookie growing pains, but Alo quickly bonded with the stars of the team, Sydney Romero and Caleigh Clifton.
” I was like, “Dang, this chick’ because there was definitely an learning curve for the three of us,” Elam stated.
But there was no jealousy or animus. Elam stated that the rest of the freshmen formed The Jossie Fan Club.
“From the very beginning, we would all look at each other and be like, ‘She’s gonna break the home run record,'” Elam said.
To say that publicly in 2018 might have been foolish. Look at what happened after Alo’s first hit: She went on the lead in batting average (. 420), RBIs (72), total bases (170), slugging (. 977), on-base percentage (. 549) and walks (14).
And she led the country in home runs.
Oklahoma made it all the way to the Women’s College World Series and lost to Washington in the semifinals. But without Alo, they might not have made it that far, as her 29th and 30th home runs gave the Sooners the lead in both of its WCWS wins against Arizona State and Florida.
Home run No. 55
Through 2 1/2 seasons — 145 games to be exact — Alo was the picture of consistency. During that time, she hit 54 home runs, and her career on-base percentage was north of . 500 as she walked twice as often as she struck out.
But then COVID-19 spread and led to the 2020 softball season being called off and players being sent home that March.
For the first time in her life, Alo couldn’t play the game she loved. She said that being in quarantine for so many days got to her and that by the time she was allowed to return to school and practice, it had taken its toll on her mental and physical well-being.
“Honestly,” she said, “I was meh toward softball. It wasn’t something I was really enjoying. Then I came back, and I was in terrible shape. “
She was dealing with personal things, she said, and didn’t have the greatest fall practice. She felt that she was turning to negative thinking and self-doubt. She heard others talk about her potential, as if she wasn’t capable of reaching it. This word, potential, is forbidden in the program. What’s the point of potential if it’s not realized?
As season approached, Alo thought to herself, “I don’t really know where this is going to lead.” I’m not in the best headspace right now. “
But she forged ahead, and during the opener against UTEP on Feb. 11, 2021, she homered to right field in her first at-bat.
Alo laughs because she knows it doesn’t make sense.
“It ended up being one of my best seasons,” she said. It’s funny how things work. “
“Quite honestly,” Patty said, “I think everybody was in that space because there was a lot of anxiety about, ‘Will we continue to play? Is it possible to get the season off? Some of our athletes were feeling depressed. Some of them weren’t doing enough [in terms of conditioning ], she wasn’t the only one. She was not ready to play with many others, as were many others.
“But that was just a matter of us getting together and getting going, and once we did, I felt everybody kind of got back and in the right space. “
Home run Nos. 67-75
Not only did Alo bounce back, she bounced back better than she was before. She eventually lost 20 pounds and got into the best shape of her life, she said. After the first game back, she felt that all her doubts were gone and things started to click.
Instantly, she was reminded why she puts in the work during the offseason: Playing the game is supposed to be fun.
“I’ve never felt more free,” she said. “I didn’t feel any pressure. “
Less than a month later, on March 7, she went on a tear and hit nine home runs in seven games against Sam Houston, UT Arlington, Kansas City, Liberty and Iowa State.
She goes on stretches like that from time to time. She has had three home runs, seven homers in six consecutive games, and five home runs in a span of two days.
Elam laughed when she was told those numbers.
” “It just feels normal to me because we are with her every day, and we see it in practice every single day,” she stated. It’s amazing. It’s amazing. We still get excited for every home run, regardless of whether it’s Jossie, or anyone else. It feels normal for her because she is consistent like that every single day. “
Home run No. 85
— Oklahoma Softball (@OU_Softball) June 5, 2021
Alo’s recall is uncanny. Asked if she remembers breaking Oklahoma’s single-season home run record — her 31st of 2021 and 85th all-time — she immediately responded, “Oh yeah. At the World Series against Georgia. “
The pitcher, Britton Rogers, was notorious for throwing off-speed. She had actually struck out Alo swinging earlier this season. Alo was confident about the future after she had two fastballs.
” I was like, “All right, here comes a changeup.” She said that this was literally all she had been throwing for strikes. “So I sat down on it and it went into right-center field stands. [Nicole Mendes] was immediately on third place and her hands instantly went up in a resounding “Yes!” ‘
“I remember as soon as I hit it, I had this little smirk on my face after. “
Every once in a while she’ll see a replay of one of her home runs, notice her reaction and think, “What made you celebrate like that? “
But, truth be told, she’s earned the moment of revelry. People take for granted the hard work that goes into being a great hitter. The hours spent at the gym and in the batting cage. She studies opposing pitchers and looks for tendencies. How she analyzes her own swing and looks for weaknesses.
She said she doesn’t believe her way is the only way. JT recalls her telling him, as a freshman, that she would do anything with her swing. He explained that this is not the norm for a highly-decorated recruit.
And not only is she coachable, she’s interested in seeking out other people’s opinions.
“I’m curious to know what more is out there,” she said.
She went and hit with Arizona State All-American Amber Freeman. She also got to know Shane Victorino from Maui, who is known as The Flyin’ Hawaiian. Alo dreams of spending time with Barry Bonds, the MLB home run champ.
“I’d probably ask him, ‘Let’s go take some BP right now,'” she said. “Hopefully, we would do that at the Giants’ stadium. It would be a horrible idea. If I had the chance to speak to him, I would ask him how he handled pressure and the hitting. Because he hit a lot home runs in his time. How is it possible that you are such an efficient hitter?
” I would consider him to be the 1 percent. How is it possible to stay in the 1 percent by being consistent with base hits, walks and on-base percentages, not just with home runs and such? “
A young hitter might ask Alo that same question.
Everyone goes through ups and downs, but it’s her consistency that people within the program marvel at — how she manages to avoid long slumps, how she hasn’t let success lead to stagnation.
“She knows that when hitters are getting caught up in outcomes, they rarely achieve them or not at the rate that they want to,” JT said. “It’s about sticking with the process for her. “
Home run Nos. 87 and 88
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 10, 2021
Bouncing back from the COVID-shortened season and rediscovering her joy for the game led to a remarkable 2021 season in which Alo hit a career-high 34 home runs and drove in 89 RBIs.
But more important than the eye-popping totals was when they occurred.
After reaching the WCWS championship series, Oklahoma struggled during the first game against Florida State. Alo was solid, scoring four runs and doubling in four at bats, but Oklahoma lost 3-2.
They needed more, and the next game, Alo obliged. Six outs away from losing the championship series, Alo was down 2-1 in the sixth. Alo launched a 2-0 Kathryn Sandercock offering to the right-centerfield fence to give the Sooners the lead. This sent the Oklahoma City crowd into a frenzy. After scoring three more runs, Oklahoma won 6-2.
The next day, Alo wasted no time, hitting a solo shot over the left field fence in the bottom of the first inning. Oklahoma added four more runs in the second inning and third innings to score a 5-1 victory and win the national championship.
Elam pointed to Alo as the person they look to offensively. Elam stated that Alo is the person who lights a fire under the team many times without her knowing. “
The box score only tells part of the story when it comes to the impact of a Jocelyn Alo home run, Patty explained.
“She, in one swing, can change the outcome of the game, the direction the game goes,” she said. It’s a powerful swing and the ball travels a long way when it is hit out. You can feel the momentum in your dugout. The dynamic of the game is changed by her mere presence at the plate. Everything changes when there’s contact. The crowd explodes, the dugout explodes, and everything changes in a split second.
“If we were behind, now we’re ahead. If there was no score we are up by three. It happens in one swing. “
Home run No. 95
Jocelyn Alo smashes her 95th career home run, tying Lauren Chamberlain for most home runs in NCAA softball history.
As soon as Alo decided to return for a fifth redshirt senior season — which was never in doubt once the NCAA granted athletes an extra year of eligibility because of COVID — it was a mortal lock that, barring severe injury, she would one day break the career home run record held by former Oklahoma Sooner Laura Chamberlain. To get there, she needed seven homers.
Like in her freshman and senior seasons, Alo wasted no time, starting out the 2022 season with a home run during the opener against UC Santa Barbara. Fast forward 1 1/2 weeks and she had hit four home runs in one day during a doubleheader against McNeese, Houston.
The following day, she tied Chamberlain’s record with a no-doubt shot over the center-field fence against Texas State. The center fielder took only one step before giving up the chase. Before Alo reached first base, teammates began to gather around home plate in celebration.
After the game, Alo was all smiles. Alo shared with reporters that it was “pretty crazy” to get to this part of home run chase — and how difficult it was. She said that she was trying to enjoy every moment and that it was even more special when she gets to hug her family afterwards. “
Looking forward, she said, “Hopefully next weekend, if it happens, my mom will be there as well and my grandparents and it’ll be even more special. “
If it happens.
That turned out to be a big if because of what happened next.
What happened next was a circus that began to follow Oklahoma wherever it went. Fans packed stadiums. More reporters were present than usual, asking the same questions over and over. The expectation was too heavy.
JT stated simply, “It sucked. “
More specifically, what “sucked” was the outside noise. People suggested that she save the record-breaking home run for a home match, as if Alo had an off/on switch.
What “sucked” was the dizzying reaction whenever she came up to bat. First, the stadium would be filled with fans who would stomp their feet and go insane. They stopped moving right before the pitch and became eerily quiet. Elam wanted to scream “Stop!” at the extremes. Be normal! “
What “sucked” was seeing opposing teams pitched around her even more than normal, doing everything they could to avoid being on the other side of history. She walked 16 times — multiple times intentionally — over the next eight games and was hit by a pitch once. JT wanted to scream “Really?!?” with each walk. “
She was doing all the right things, taking the free pass rather than chasing bad pitches, but the result tied for the longest stretch without a home run in her career. Everyone in the Oklahoma dugout felt sorry for her. It was unfair. JT would see Alo hit an RBI single and hear the crowd’s disappointed groan. He’d then want to scream, “Really?!?” “
“She’s got the weight of the world on her,” Elam said.
Patty watched her star pupil do something she’d never seen before: Alo was pressing.
“It was very frustrating for her,” she said.
Home run No. 96
“Everywhere I go I’m always playing for you guys, no matter if it’s on a national level or an international level. I want you guys too to dream big.
Jocelyn Alo was moved as she spoke with young softball players at the park where she started hitting with her dad pic.twitter.com/2avQUx0NGh
— espnW (@espnW) March 10, 2022
Alo tried not to let her emotions show, but each day that passed without breaking the record meant more of the same tiresome questions and more of the same annoying circus.
Eventually, what should have been a fun ride morphed into something else entirely.
” I just wanted to get the record done because of all the buzz and how many walks it was generating,” she said. “I was like, “Come on guys! Let’s just compete. ‘”
The only upside to her home run drought was that it set up a potential storybook ending as Oklahoma traveled to Hawai’i for the Rainbow Wahine Classic in mid-March. This would be Alo’s first visit to her home state since highschool.
The day before the four-game set would begin at the University of Hawai’i, Alo and her teammates drove 45 minutes north to Hau’ula. In a career that has included five national championships, and an induction into the Hall of Fame, Gasso said that what Alo saw as she returned home that day was “one of my greatest softball moments.” “
“Her father announced that we were coming to kind of do a promotion, like we were gonna sign autographs and mess around with the kids a little bit,” Gasso said. “And about 80 kids showed up at her home field. She lives about 100 yards from the field, so that’s where she started. She took her first swing there. It was amazing to see her interact with these children and get so emotional. “
Wearing a lei over a crimson Oklahoma T-shirt and wiping away tears, Alo addressed the crowd and told them that she carries Hawai’i and kids like them — kids like her — with her everywhere she goes.
“I want all of you guys to dream big and to reach higher than I have ever been,” she said.
Two days later, against Hawai’i, she did it. It was the sixth inning. The count was 2-1 and the pitcher hung a curveball that Alo belted 40 feet above the right-center-field fence.
The celebration was raucous, the sense of relief palpable.
Oklahoma softball star Jocelyn Alo hits her record-breaking 96th home run vs. Hawai’i on Friday night.
“To be able to hit it in Hawai’i, against Hawai’i, on the field where she won the high school state championship and all of her families who can’t ever get here [Norman] — her sisters, her mother, a huge, huge, huge family — they were all there to witness this, and it truly could not have been scripted any better,” Gasso said. It was just, it wasn’t the most emotional, incredible moment. It was one of the most memorable moments I have ever had as a coach. Just watching her go through it. “
Gasso said she hadn’t spoken to Alo about it, but she hoped she understood what it meant not just for her and for Oklahoma, but for softball as a whole.
Alo did know. It’s part and parcel of the reason why the journey was worth it.
“It’s a win for women’s sports in general because obviously we might not get the coverage, we might not get the media, the things that we deserve,” she said. “If I can get the sport out there and have it get the media coverage and coverage it deserves, then it’s a win for women’s sports in general,” she said. “
Home run No. 113
In the same breath, Alo turned her attention forward.
“It’s just going to continue to go up from here,” she said of the home run record. “I think it will be a very difficult record to break after that, I would say. “
In the 31 games since, she’s hit 17 more home runs, bringing her total to 113 and counting.
Her latest: a solo shot over the left field fence that tied the game in the fifth inning of the Big 12 championship final against rival Oklahoma State. It was just another in a long string of heroics. Three innings later, Oklahoma scored the winning run.
This was the second time that the Sooners had ever lost a game in the which Alo homered.
Still, Oklahoma entered the NCAA tournament as the prohibitive favorite and No.
Oklahoma entered the NCAA tournament as the prohibitive favorite and No.1 overall seed. It will host Prairie View A&M on Friday as it aims to win back-to–back national championships. If history is any indication, Alo will deliver. In three total NCAA tournament appearances, she’s clubbed 15 home runs, seven of which have come during the World Series.
Whether Alo finishes her career with one title or two, her place in college softball history is already guaranteed. It is uncertain how long her home run record will last and what her final score will be after her season.
As Alo stated, “Records should be broken.” “
Gasso was asked whether she agreed.
” “I think this record’s going to be really difficult to break,” she stated. “But if my recruiting is good, then hopefully the answer to your question is yes. “
In a way, Alo is already recruiting her replacement.
After games, during autograph sessions and meet-and-greets with fans, she started asking little girls, “Who’s gonna be the next one? “
A few people have been able to raise their hand.
Alo’s response: “All right, let’s see it. “
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.