The 6-4, 195-pound junior and former first round choice in the major league draft, made his first start in Division IA baseball since 2003 Saturday afternoon at McKethan Stadium, going six innings and striking out five to help the Florida Gators win their first game of the year, 3-2, over Charleston Southern. The Gators got the win in the bottom of the ninth inning when Daniel Brooks singled home Justin Tordi from third base to cap the game-winning rally.
"Man it feels good to go again," said Horne, who gave up just one run in his six innings. "I thought I was a little bit all over the place early on, but I kind of settled down and got the kind of location I wanted, especially late in the game."
Horne went to Ole Miss after high school rather than take a big league contract. He had an injury plagued first year at Ole Miss that was followed by Tommy John surgery on his right arm. He got some innings in at Chipola Junior College last year, so this was the first Division 1A game for him since 2003, and it was pain free.
He was on a pitch count of 75, but when he got to that point in the sixth inning, Coach Pat McMahon elected to let him stay in and finish out the inning. Jordan Haar, who had doubled in Tommy Dalton to tie the game at 1-1, was on second when Horne recomposed himself, got Graham Maiden to ground to second and then finished off his performance with a strikeout of Brian Sole to kill the Bucs' rally.
"I was really happy that I got a chance to work out of a couple of jams," said Horne. "I've always felt I pitch well when there's a runner in scoring position. I feel good about the way I play. No pain, no stiffness in the arm, either."
Matt LaPorta strikes out at bat.
Horne was in a position to pick up the win because in the bottom of the sixth, Tordi singled to left to drive in Jeff Corsaletti with the go-ahead run. The Gators chance at extending the lead ended on that same play when Matt LaPorta got caught in a rundown between second and third.
"I thought Alan pitched extremely well and he competed well for us," said McMahon. "As the game unfolded he finished right at 85 on the pitch count and he'll be able to stretch that later but we want to be very conservative with all our guys."
What pleased McMahon most of all was that Horne was able to throw with more velocity as the game wore on.
"He was throwing well at the end of the game and he had a couple of opportunities late where he threw the ball with the best velocity he had all day which is a sign of a good competitor," said McMahon.
Horne felt that once he got through the first inning or two, he settled down and got into a pretty good groove.
"Once I got into a groove, I wasn't all over the place like I was in the first inning or two," he said. "I started getting the ball where I wanted and I felt pretty good about what I was able to do."
Florida staked Horne to a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Stephen Barton smacked a one-out double to left center field and Corsaletti followed with a walk. After a double steal, LaPorta walked to load the bases. Barton came home on a tapper to first by Brian Jeroloman but further damage was contained when Tordi popped out to left field.
The play of the day came in the second inning when Charleston Southern's Jay Reynolds hit a fading foul ball down the first base line with one out and Alan Bontya on first. LaPorta ran it down, stretching full out to make the catch over his shoulder. He then had the presence to get to his feet, locate the runner and throw a perfect strike to Tordi at second base to nail Bontya, who had tagged and was trying to go to second.
"That was just a big league play by Matt," said McMahon.
When Horne left the game after six, he was replaced by Mike Pete who was greeted on his first pitch by a line drive home run over the left field fence by Jason Rose to tie the game at 2-2. Florida mounted a scoring threat in the bottom of the seventh but couldn't capitalize, although the Gators did chase Charleston Southern starter Ian Holmen from the mound.
The Gators got two excellent innings of relief from Darren O'Day who picked up the win after losing the opening game of the three-game series in relief Friday night. O'Day gave up a single in the eighth but eliminated that runner with an inning-ending pickoff at first, and in the ninth he gave up a walk and an infield hit, but got out of that jam with a double play grounder, Davis to Tordi to LaPorta.
Daniel Brooks just as he slams in a single
and drives in the winning run to secure victory
In the bottom of the ninth, Tordi ripped a double down the left field line off CSU reliever Josh Evans. Jared Kubln's high chopper to third took so long to come down that he was able to beat the throw to first for an infield hit with Tordi sliding head first into third. Daniel Brooks then delivered his game-winner to right field to even the Gators record at 1-1 for the season.
After a six-error performance that included several base running errors Friday night, McMahon was pleased that the Gators played with such poise to win in the bottom of the ninth Saturday.
Yesterday the game unraveled, a lot of situations for our young club, a lot of situations that we practice and work out, but when you're playing against outside competition, sometimes things speed up too quickly," said McMahon. "We have great respect for Charleston Southern. T "We've got a long way to be successful, we know that, but our guys worked hard and showed great composure. This club's got great heart but we have to continue to improve."
The Gators finish the opening home stand of the season Sunday with a 1 p.m. game with Charleston Southern at McKethan Stadium.
The weather was tailor made for a beautiful game on a beautiful day