'So much more than softball'
NORMAN, Okla. — Patty Gasso, OU’s softball coach of 27 years, admittedly doesn’t engage much with the messages she receives on social media.
She often sees them but rarely responds.
Gasso made an exception when she saw a note from a young coach that was tied to two young girls, who played softball and were tragically killed in a school shooting Tuesday in Uvalde, Texas.
“It just affected me and affected this team,” said Gasso following her team’s contest on Friday. “We knew we needed to respond. If there's anything that we can do to bring joy or hope or just acknowledgement of these young lives and make these families feel better, we'll do whatever we have to do because this sport has allowed us to do these kinds of things.”
Minutes before OU faced Central Florida in Game 1 of its Super Regional series, the program observed a moment of silence for the victims of the shooting, which killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School, located in the southwest corner of Texas.
The country’s top-seeded team in the NCAA tournament kept posters in their dugout that honored four of the victims, all of whom played softball.
OU’s coaching staff gathered the photos of the girls, printed them onto poster boards and left its players to write messages of support and prayer, which the team displayed behind Jocelyn Alo as she was interviewed on the ESPN broadcast.
"We're just trying to remember them and to just play for them,” Alo told ESPN, “because it's so much more than softball.”
If you’ve followed Alo, the fifth-year Sooner who’s hit more home runs than any Division I softball player, she’s hard to rattle.
She exudes confidence in the batter’s box that makes the entire ballpark surrounding her anxious for the home run she inevitably will hit.
This week, however, was particularly challenging for softball’s home run queen.
“It really was,” Alo said. “I am very close with a lot of my younger cousins, and I see my cousins in them. So for me, it was hard to manage. But I know that coach [Gasso] is always gonna have my back on stuff like that and this team is gonna have my back.
“I'm just happy that we have this platform to talk about things like that, because as big as the softball community is, it's really small. And whenever girls that played softball, that were affected by that, it hits a little bit closer to home.”
The Sooners, who won 8-0 in five innings on Friday, will continue to honor the girls throughout the postseason.
From the posters to written reminders on their hats, OU softball won’t soon forget the students and teachers, their families and the city mourning an event all too common in the United States.
“We're thinking of them,” Alo said. “We're playing for them and have them on our shoulders the rest of the way out.”