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HEART NEVER WAS IN TEXAS EVELAND WORKS WAY TO TOP OF COC STAFF.

Byline: Gideon Rubin Staff Writer

VALENCIA - Dana Eveland would sit in his room, wondering how he ever could have ended up in Hillsboro, Texas.

Eveland, a Palmdale High graduate who now pitches for College of the Canyons, was a freshman on a baseball scholarship at Hill Junior College in the fall of 2001. Bored beyond belief, he spent hours staring out his dormitory window, an exercise that only made him wonder even more why he'd ever decided to move to Texas.

``To the left, a little bit, there was a McDonald's,'' Eveland said. ``To the right, (interstate) 35 was out there. Other than that, you looked past I-35 and it was just flat. There was nothing out there that way.''

Eveland went to Hill with the understanding he would have the inside track for a University of Texas scholarship. He agreed to move to Hillsboro just two weeks before the fall semester began, having never seen the campus.

It turned out to be worse than he ever imagined.

Situated about an hour from Dallas to the north and 45 minutes from Waco to the south, to say Hillsboro offered a less-than stimulating environment would be an understatement. His boredom grew into depression as the months went by, and a breakup with his girlfriend didn't help.

``There was a lot of alone time, just laying in bed thinking about `Why am I here?' '' he said.

Eveland eventually came out of his funk. He began an intense conditioning program - his room was just a short walk from the school's weight room - and by January, he had baseball, which was the reason he moved there in the first place, on which to focus his attention.

``I ended up going from a guy who was throwing 86 mph in high school to a guy who topped out at 92 last year, just by being bored,'' Eveland said.

A hard-throwing left-hander, Eveland had a breakthrough year at Hill - he was 6-4 with a 2.04 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 70 innings - and attracted the attention of major-league scouts.

He was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 16th round of the 2002 amateur draft, but on the advice of his agent, Page Odell, he declined an offer made to him late last summer.

Eveland can sign with the Brewers up until this year's June amateur draft, or he can re-enter the draft, where he's exceedingly unlikely to slip as low as he did last year.

``You've got to make them pay you a little bit so there's a reason for them to take care of you,'' he said. ``Otherwise, they can just use you and abuse you if they don't have as much money invested in you.''

He opted to try to raise his value by pitching another year at a community college, and contacted Canyons coach Chris Cota over the summer.

The move has worked out as well for him as it has for the Cougars. After his first five games, Eveland is 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA. He's emerged as the staff ace, and has helped lead first-place Canyons (11-8, 6-1) to its best start in years.

The timing of his arrival couldn't have been better for Canyons, which lost three regarded pitchers - Jake Coash (Canyon), Richie Martin (Valencia), and Jeremy Gartska - to season-ending arm injuries.

Eveland's presence in the rotation has impacted the entire staff, Canyons catcher and co-captain Brandon Montemayor said.

``He sets a higher standard of excellence, and they (the other pitchers) feed off that,'' Montemayor said.

Eveland has learned to throw a slider he developed on his own just five months ago that he now uses as his out-pitch, and he has shown remarkable polish for a college sophomore.

His control has been equally remarkable: Through 32 2/3 innings, he's allowed seven walks and has 39 strikeouts.

According to Cota, Eveland's mound presence, a quality scouts hold in high regard, is as impressive as his pitching.

``He's usually not surprised by what happens around him,'' Cota said. ``He gives up nine runs in one inning - maybe two of them were earned - but he handles himself really well on the mound. A lot of guys are going to get mad and hang their heads, but the way he conducts himself is impressive, even when things aren't going his way.''

Don't expect Eveland to be going back to Hillsboro any time soon, but he has no regrets about the move.

``It definitely worked out for the best,'' he said. ``I had an unbelievable season, and I had a great time. It was definitely a breakthrough season for me.''

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Photo:

Dana Eveland has flourished at College of the Canyons since coming over from Hill Junior College in Texas. Eveland 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA after five starts at COC this season.

Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1U7TX
Date:Mar 8, 2003
Words:810
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