By Eric Wein
Arizona Daily Wildcat
For one day, the two young girls shared the same shattered dream.
Their Glendale (Calif.) little league team lost to Naples (Fla.) in the title game of the softball world series and 15-year-old Jenny Dalton and 14-year-old Nancy Evans were left dejected on the small field in Kalamazoo, Mich.
"We cried after the game," recalled Evans, now a freshman pitcher and designated player for the UA softball team. "To come that close, it was really disappointing."
Dalton shakes her head when she remembers the way she felt.
"When the taste of victory is that close and just to come in second," said Dalton, Arizona's sophomore second baseman, "it is a sour taste you don't want to feel. That's the worst."
This year, Dalton and Evans have been key figures in the UA softball team's march toward repeating as national champions. And the two Glendale natives still share their softball memories since they both took up the sport about the age of 10.
The girls were always on separate little league teams except for that all-star squad, which was assembled for the playoffs.
From the day the last out was recorded in Michigan, they went their separate ways for the most part, eventually returning to the diamond in the uniforms of rival high schools. Dalton went to Glendale High School and Evans played for Hoover.
Every time their teams faced each other, the matchup between the city's two premier softball players drew widespread interest.
"When she was at bat and I was pitching, that was like the biggest thing to see Ä if she would get a base hit or if I could get her out," Evans said. "It was the big moment. It wasn't like a game, it was me pitching against Jenny."
Dalton always hoped to hit a homer off of Evans, but never did.
Still, the confrontation between the two was played up like boxers coming out of opposite corners. But they said they were friends because they both had to endure the same pressures while they shared the spotlight.
Instead, it was all about the confrontation Ä Evans versus Dalton.
"It was a fierce rivalry, but we always respected each other," Dalton said. "It wasn't like I hate her, it was 'man, she's good, I hope I can do it.'"
Before they reached college, the two played together briefly during two summers. They were teammates on a summer club team and in last summer's U.S. Olympic Festival in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Eventually, Dalton would end the rivalry by beginning her collegiate career at Arizona, playing a freshman season she would rather forget. Her status as the UA second baseman was shaky because she was competing for the spot and an error could mean Krista Gomez would take over the position.
And then in late April, the injuries began for Dalton.
First, she was washing her dishes and a glass broke, cutting open her little finger. The injury caused her to miss most of the final six games of the season.
She later twisted her ankle while running with the team on a shoddy field during the last practice before the College World Series. The other players thought she was joking at first when she rolled on the ground in pain, but the result was a sprained ankle that would cause her to miss the first two games of the series.
"It was tough sitting on the bench that whole time," she said. "The biggest problem with the injuries was I wanted to come and support the team on the field rather than in the dugout."
Meanwhile, Evans was tearing through high school softball in California during her senior year. She had an 0.02 ERA with two earned runs and 392 strikeouts in 184 innings.
And when colleges began pursuing her, the last recruiting trips came down to Arizona and UCLA, the teams that met in the College World Series title game the past three years. After visiting Arizona, she decided to honor her visit to the UCLA campus.
But it didn't matter, she decided on Arizona. Evans had watched Arizona practice during her visit to Tucson and all she wanted to do was wear a Wildcat uniform.
To Dalton's delight, their paths crossed once again, but this time as teammates.
"I just had a feeling one day we'd play together," Dalton said. "I just knew if she wasn't here, she was at UCLA. I was kind of hoping she would not go to UCLA because I did not want to play against her for another four years."
As teammates, both have made a major impact, guiding the top-ranked Wildcats to a 42-2 record this season.
Dalton has avoided injuries this season to post a .418 average, tied for fourth on the team, and she has hit eight homers.
Evans has been nothing short of amazing for her freshman season. Her 11-0 mark has made her the only undefeated UA pitcher and she owns a 1.49 ERA.
Her best outing came in a doubleheader against UCLA early this month at Hillenbrand Stadium. Evans homered in three consecutive at-bats and threw a six-hit victory in the second game.
"That is something I will always remember," Evans said of her performance. "I don't hit homers too often Ä I'm more of a base hitter. Hitting three homers in a row may never happen again and especially against a team like UCLA."
These days, the two laugh when they watch old footage of their little league days on videotape because an Evans' fastball that seemed so quick back then, now looks like nothing more than a changeup.
However, the memories of not winning the little league championship still weigh heavy on both of their minds. And they will carry those thoughts of disappointment when the Wildcats embark for another title.
"I never want to feel that way again and I think that's going to drive me to do everything I can to never let this team lose," Dalton said.
Said Evans: "To have Jenny there, it will be another memory, another great moment to add to those we have."
NOTES Ä The Wildcats take on Arizona State in a doubleheader tonight at 6 in Tempe. Read Next Article