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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | ERIC SONDHEIMER

Despite Outcome, It's Not Right to Call Knights Losers

June 04, 2000|ERIC SONDHEIMER

For a young boy growing up in Southern California, there's no more sacred ground than Dodger Stadium.

Whether playing catch in the backyard with Dad or lying in bed at night listening to Vin Scully on the radio, childhood fantasies are formed.

Then, to find yourself standing in the middle of your Field of Dreams as a teenager is the greatest jolt imaginable.

Adults, let alone 17- and 18-year-olds, have been known to freeze up and fail to perform under the pressure setting of Dodger Stadium.

But that didn't happen on a glorious, cloudless Saturday in the Southern Section Division IV baseball final.

Notre Dame High, making its first championship appearance in the more than 50-year history of the Sherman Oaks school, lost to San Luis Obispo, 5-4.

There were enough clutch hits and big plays by both schools that no one deserved to leave the field thinking they were losers.

It all started with Chalon Tietje of San Luis Obispo hitting a home run over the left-field fence in the first inning.

"There isn't anything bigger than hitting a home run in the [Southern Section] championship game at Dodger Stadium," he said. "It's something you dream about your whole life."

James Rivero of Notre Dame bettered Tietje in the fantasy department. He came up in the top of the seventh inning with two out and his team trailing, 4-3, and hit the ball over the left-field fence to tie the score.

"I could never imagine it happening, to tell you the truth," Rivero said.

Everyone learns something new about themselves when performing under pressure. Sometimes it's not pleasant; other times adrenaline kicks in and amazing things happen.

Shortstop Jonathon Brewster of Notre Dame was having a miserable game Saturday. You could sense the fury building up in his body. Twice he threw the ball over the head of his first baseman for errors. At the plate, he flied out and struck out.

He came up in the sixth inning with his team behind, 2-1, two out and runners at second and third. The count reached 1 and 2. He lined a two-run single to left. It was an example of an athlete displaying resiliency and extreme focus at a critical moment.

But getting a hit or striking out, winning or losing should not be used as final validation for lessons learned during a high school career.

Anyone who has spent time around Notre Dame's players these last four years and observed some of the 14 seniors on and off the field realizes the special bond that exists and the quality individuals taking shape.

They've laughed together, cried together, danced together, dated together, celebrated birthdays together, mourned deaths together.

On Saturday, they graduated in the morning, wearing caps and gowns over their uniforms, then boarded a bus and played their final high school game on hallowed grounds.

"It was something I dreamed about since I was young," pitcher Daniel Browne said. "It's awesome being out here where Sandy Koufax once played. Everything was good except the ending."

Browne's father, Kevin, graduated from Notre Dame. Father and son played catch in the backyard, in the frontyard, at the park, at the Little League field.

No father could be prouder of a senior who started the year with people questioning whether he could be an ace and ended with him pitching on the mound at Dodger Stadium and striking out nine batters in five innings.

Except Kevin Browne and the rest of Notre Dame's senior parents have something more important to be thankful for. Their sons grew up over these last four years and learned the meaning of friendship, trust and what the future is truly about.

"It's been the greatest four years of my life," Rivero said. "I grew up playing baseball with these guys. These guys are friends for life. I'll never forget any of these players."

Alec Moss, an emotional, uncompromising, hustling third baseman, has suffered some heart-breaking athletic defeats at Notre Dame.

He was a sophomore linebacker in 1997 when the Knights lost to Arroyo Grande, 19-17, in the Division III championship football game on a 28-yard field goal with 19 seconds left. He was a senior last fall when an 88-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass with 1:38 left lifted Valencia past Notre Dame, 26-21, in the Division III football semifinals.

Those crushing defeats didn't deter Moss, nor will Saturday's loss, either.

"It's really rough," he said. "It will hurt for a while, but I'm not going to stop my whole life. I've got things to do."

One day, Moss is going to be a coach or a sports agent or something else. He'll be successful at whatever he chooses because he'll never stop trying.

On the other side of the dugout, San Luis Obispo's Tietje was explaining the joy of playing at Dodger Stadium.

"It feels like I'm in the middle of heaven," he said.

Every Notre Dame and San Luis Obispo player would surely agree.

*

The Gwin family is on opposite sides for Tuesday in the City Championship baseball game between El Camino Real and Kennedy at Dodger Stadium.

Jim Gwin is principal at Kennedy; his wife, Penny, is assistant principal at El Camino Real.

"I have told my Kennedy people we have to win," Jim said.

Penny might try to get inside information out of her husband, but Jim said, "The word is mum--nothing about my team this week."

No word yet whether the losing spouse will have to buy the other dinner. . . .

The first father-son umpire team for a City final is set to work the City Invitational game Tuesday. Louie Vargas and his son, Danny, will be part of the umpire crew for the Venice-Narbonne game.

*

Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422 or eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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