OMAHA, Neb. — Cade Horton could have been in the opposing bullpen.
After suffering a 10-3 loss to Ole Miss in Saturday’s College World Series Finals opener, OU must win Game 2 on Sunday at 2 pm to force a decisive third game on Monday.
The Sooners’ starting pitcher will be Horton, who is plenty familiar with the Rebels.
Horton originally committed to Ole Miss during his freshman year at Norman High, but he ultimately rebelled against the Rebels when he decided he wanted to be a dual-sport athlete in college.
In addition to being rated by Perfect Game as the No. 34 prospect in the Class of 2020, Horton also played quarterback for the Norman High football team. He averaged 384.8 total yards of offense per game during his senior year.
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Ole Miss was hesitant to offer Horton a spot on its football team, but OU wasn’t. The Sooners weren’t new to two-sport athletes.
Cody Thomas was an outfielder and quarterback during his time at OU from 2013-16. He now plays for the Oakland A’s.
Kyler Murray was also a quarterback/outfielder during his Sooner days from 2016-18. He now plays for the Arizona Cardinals.
OU offered Horton to play both baseball and football in July of 2018, and he flipped his commitment in January of 2019.
Horton didn’t end up playing for the OU football team, but he has become a standout player on the diamond. The redshirt freshman has a 5-2 record this season with an ERA of 5.24, although he has played especially well as of late.
Horton’s most recent appearance came against Notre Dame on June 19. He recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts and only surrendered two runs pitched in six ins.
“I said it to several people, one of the best freshman pitchers I’ve been around, ever,” OU head coach Skip Johnson said of Horton after the win. “It’s no different than watching a big leaguer, how quick (Horton) can pick stuff up.”
Now, Horton will take to the mound on Sunday against the team he nearly suited up for.
“He has really had a great last month or so,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “He has tremendous stuff… The guy is super talented.”
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The Sooners have faced plenty of hostile environments during their postseason run.
OU emerged victorious from the Gainesville Regional, which was hosted by No. 13-seeded Florida. It then won the Blacksburg Super Regional, which unfolded on the home turf of No. 4-seeded Virginia Tech.
“We’ve been doing it all post-season,” redshirt sophomore Blake Robertson said. “I think we actually enjoy shutting up the crowd.”
But, for the first time this postseason, the Sooners ran into a crowd that refused to shut up.
What was meant to be a neutral site at Charles Schwab Field on Saturday was anything but. Ole Miss’ fans dominated the stands, and they made their presence known all evening.
“I would say there were probably 20,000 Rebels there,” fifth-year senior Tim Elko said of the game, which had an official attendance of 25,813. “It was an amazing environment… Just having all that support, it makes it a lot of fun to play.”
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Ole Miss’ fans were fueled by a rough start on the mound for Jake Bennett.
The redshirt sophomore entered the game with three wild pitches this season, but he eclipsed that total in the first two innings.
The Rebels’ supporters also got rowdy in the top of the eighth inning. Ole Miss hit three straight home runs to take an 8-2 lead, and its fans had a field day.
“SEC,” they chanted, referencing OU’s impending move to the conference. “SEC.”
OU has its back against the wall heading into Sunday’s second game. The Sooners must defeat a red-hot Ole Miss squad, but they must also get the best of a formidable opposing crowd.
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Postgame quick hits
Johnson on the pitching of Ole Miss’ Jack Dougherty, who began the game with five hitless innings: “I think he commanded his fastball. He kind of kept them off balance and had a little ride life to his fastball. We didn’t lay off of it. I think he really took the game over.”
Robertson on the loss: “I’m glad this happened. We’re going to learn from our lesson, slow everything down and get back and ready to play tomorrow. It’s a three-game series for a reason.”
Johnson on four of OU’s five hits coming from spots 7-9 in its rotation: “That’s the biggest thing. We have to get some guys on for those guys up top, and that’s why they’re there. They’ll work a walk or get a hit or whatever it may be.”
Elko on Ole Miss’ six two-out RBIs: “They’re huge. We harp on it all the time that even with two outs, there’s still 33 percent of the inning left… We take that to heart and try to drive runs in… Those can be backbreakers.”
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Justin Martinez can be reached at email@example.com or @JTheSportsDude on Twitter. Make sure to subscribe to The Oklahoman to stay up to date with all local sports.