AP

Best ever? Oklahoma’s Jocelyn Alo among softball’s greats

May 31, 2022, 2:44 AM | Updated: 6:37 pm

Oklahoma's Jocelyn Alo (78) celebrates with Jana Johns (20) after scoring a run against Texas A&M i...

Oklahoma's Jocelyn Alo (78) celebrates with Jana Johns (20) after scoring a run against Texas A&M in the first inning of a softball game in the NCAA Norman Regional in Norman, Okla., Sunday, May 22, 2022. (Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman via AP)

(Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman via AP)

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Jocelyn Alo brought the energy level to a fever pitch on a muggy Friday afternoon at Oklahoma’s Marita Hynes Field.

The Sooners were gaining momentum in Game 1 of their super regional last week, having just taken a 3-0 lead over Central Florida in the second inning. Alo — the career home run leader in Division I softball — was at the plate. Oklahoma’s fans, many with shirts donning her No. 78, eagerly anticipated another blast.

Alo waited patiently as usual, and when pitcher Gianna Mancha finally made a mistake, she paid dearly. With the most beautiful, seemingly effortless swing, Alo doubled Oklahoma’s score and gave her adoring fans what they came for. The ball landed in the home run village beyond the left center field seats.

It wasn’t as much of a no-doubter off the bat as the rocket she launched the next day — a solo shot to left in her final at-bat that helped the Sooners beat UCF again and advance to the Women’s College World Series. But that’s one of many things that makes Alo different: She’s so strong and so good at every aspect of hitting that she doesn’t even need her hardest swing for the ball to leave the yard.

“Some hitters’ margin for error is like, super small — they have to be close to perfect to get a really good hit or to get a home run,” said Sierra Romero, an Athletes Unlimited player who hit 82 home runs for Michigan from 2013-2016. “Her room for error is so big that she can have a bad swing … and it’s still going to be launched well past the stands in the outfield. And when you can do that as a hitter, it makes you really lethal.”

Thing is, power alone doesn’t make Alo one of the best all-around hitters in Division I college softball history. She is patient and has a swing that rivals the best in bat-and-ball sports.

That’s why she hits for average, too. Sure, she has hit 117 career home runs — 22 more than Lauren Chamberlain’s previous record heading into the WCWS opener against Northwestern on Thursday. But she also ranks second nationally this season with a .497 batting average and she leads the nation with a .634 on-base percentage. She’s second among active players with a career .440 batting average. In addition to the home run record, she leads active players in career runs scored, RBIs and slugging percentage.

Shelby Pendley, an assistant at Jackson State who hit 84 homers for Arizona and Oklahoma from 2012 to 2015, said Alo might be in a class by herself.

“Jocelyn, in my eyes, is the best hitter I’ve really ever seen in softball,” Pendley said. “She has it all. Consistent, hits for power, hits for average.”

Alo, who is from Hau’ula, Hawaii, and has Hawaiian and Samoan ancestry, is the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year two years in a row — 2021 and 2022. She was selected in the Athletes Unlimited draft and was the No. 1 overall pick in the Women’s Professional Fastpitch League draft.

Matt Lisle is an assistant baseball coach at the University of San Francisco, but he has coached softball, too. He is the founder of The Hitting Vault, a library of hitting drills for softball and baseball.

He puts Alo’s swing up there with Major League Baseball stars such as Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout and Mookie Betts.

“I think any baseball coach who has their eye on softball would look at her and her swing and say that’s an elite swing, regardless,” he said, noting Alo has great “barrel awareness.”

“It’s so difficult to get her out because there’s no there’s no holes in her swing,” he said. “She can hit bad pitches, good pitches. And now you add in the strength piece. She’s very strong. So she literally checks all the boxes when you look for a complete hitter. On time. Good swing movements, strong and makes good decisions, doesn’t swing at bad pitches, swings at good pitches.”

Pendley said Alo makes the multi-step sequence required to swing a bat look effortless.

“It’s hard to consistently be perfect with your swing, and I feel like Jocelyn is,” Pendley said. “It’s hard to say somebody is perfect. But I think with her swing she’s damn near perfect all the time with it.”

Alo has stayed a step ahead of the competition. When opponents figure something out about her, she fixes it.

“I’ve just always been very curious about hitting, and I think that there’s always something to improve on year in and year out,” Alo said. “And not that I’m trying to beat myself from the previous year, but … what was it that I could take from that year into this year, and what can I improve on as far as my weaknesses?”

While her power has drawn her the most fame, sending the ball out of the park isn’t Alo’s primary goal.

“The one thing she doesn’t do is try to hit home runs,” Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said. “If she did try to hit home runs all the time, she would be hitting a lot of skyrocketing fly balls for outs.”

Stacey Nuveman-Deniz hit 90 home runs for UCLA and was the career run leader for more than 20 years until Chamberlain broke her record in 2015. Now the head coach at San Diego State, Nuveman-Deniz said patience plays a role in Alo’s ability to hit for average.

“You can’t miss on her — she won’t chase a pitcher’s junk off the plate but never lets a hittable pitch pass her by,” Nuveman-Deniz said. “I think that’s what sets her apart — she’s aggressive yet restrained and doesn’t chase. Most big boppers are susceptible to chasing pitches, but Jocelyn rarely goes after pitches she can’t hit.”

In some cases, a team can pitch around a great hitter. But Oklahoma has some of the nation’s best players surrounding Alo. Jayda Coleman is third nationally in on-base percentage. Tiare Jennings has hit 24 home runs and ranks fourth nationally in RBIs and second in runs per game. Grace Lyons has 21 home runs and is among the nation’s leaders with 62 RBIs.

Jennings and Lyons join Alo as top 25 finalists for USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. They are part of the reason Oklahoma leads the nation in batting average and runs scored.

“I would not like to be on the other side of that for sure,” Alo said. “To have All-American after All-American after All-American — having to face this Oklahoma offense is something different.”

___

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

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Best ever? Oklahoma’s Jocelyn Alo among softball’s greats