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Posted on Jul 5, 2016

A pair of Jacks on a different deck (part 1)

The image is as old as baseball itself.
A batter, having lost a battle of wits with a pitcher, uses his bat to punish the ground for it.
Tell Mark Horning about it and he laughs.
“That’s just Jesse,” he says. “That’s how he works.”
Horning is a pitcher, Jesse is Jesse Villarreal, a catcher and batterymate for Horning when the latter takes his spot on the mound for the Columbia Basin River Dogs
During this game, Villarreal slammed his bat on the batter’s box and another time, after he arrived at the dugout.
That’s how he gets it out of his system, Villarreal said, so he can focus on the next half-inning.
“I’m used to it,” Horning said. “He’s been doing it since he was little.”
If Horning sounds like he knows his teammate like the back of his ungloved hand, well, he does.
They are longtime friends and teammates, having played together since they were grade-schoolers.
They played together for the Quincy Jacks, and now with Villarreal on his second year as a real-world freshman (QHS, class of 2015), they are teammates in Ephrata.
“I know how to calm him down,” Villarreal says of Horning. “Like today, (June 25) I knew he was struggling. He wouldn’t tell me why, but I finally got it out of him.”
Horning agrees.
“My positioning on the mound wasn’t right,” he says. The River Dogs lost their first game July 25 by a score of 9-1 to a Lakeside Recovery squad from Issaquah.
Villarreal is a catcher because he likes how involved he is in a game. Horning is a pitcher because “I have the whole game in my hands,” he said.
They have played for the River Dogs since they were high school freshmen.
As River Dogs they play their home games in the same field they played their away games against the Jacks’ archrival from the county seat.
The switch is no big deal, they both say. High school was high school, and they have their sights set elsewhere.
For starters, the Babe Ruth World Series start in August and they would like for their River Dogs team, the club’s White squad to earn a spot in it. The RiverDogs’ Blue team will also try to make it, and that team also has Quincy players in it: Nick Lopez and Kaeden Murphy.
The dream, for Villarreal, is to play for as long as he can. The dream for Horning is to get past the Juco level –he will play for Wenatchee Valley College next year– and reach Division I.
And in both cases, focusing on games from a year-plus ago, doesn’t help.
“It’s much more competitive here,” Villarreal said. “All the kids that are on my team are, like, the best players on their teams.”
The pitching is faster at this level, too. A hurler in high school may likely top off in the 70-mph range.
At the RiverDogs’ level, batters see anywhere from mid-70s to low 90s, he added.
The White team is composed of players from Moses Lake, Warden, and as far as Idaho. It’s based in Ephrata, but it’s not a rarity to hail from elsewhere, Villarreal said.
The real rivalry against Ephrata is with the Rock Hounds, the other Babe Ruth team that calls Ephrata its home base.
The Tigers? not so much, especially for the River Dogs’ White team, which plays in Ephrata but only has one Ephrata player, and Horning.
“I used to come to school here,” Horning said, “for a private school.”
The erstwhile rivalry between Tigers and Jacks carries little weight.
“It’s nothing,” Horning says.

Sebastian Moraga, sports@qvpr.com

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