SHERMAN OAKS — The expectations were so low for Notre Dame High's pitching staff this season that when right-hander Daniel Browne shut out Chaminade for 6 1/3 innings Tuesday in a Mission League game for first place, he left Eagle Coach Scott Drootin almost speechless.
"I'm in shock, to be honest with you," Drootin said.
In a performance that the Knights badly needed, Browne limited Chaminade to five hits and produced a series of ground-ball outs, then let Matt Kohon finish up in the seventh to secure Notre Dame's 5-3 victory at Notre Dame.
Few teams possess as much talent as the Knights (5-3, 3-0 in league). Four seniors have accepted NCAA Division I scholarships. Their batting order is solid from top to bottom. And defensively, no one is better than the duo of shortstop Jonathon Brewster and second baseman Brendan Ryan.
But the question has been whether Notre Dame's pitchers could throw effectively against quality teams. Coach Tom Dill was frustrated in recent games because his pitchers weren't getting very many ground balls, wasting the defensive skills of Brewster and Ryan.
Dill came up with an edict for the Chaminade game: Either get the opposing players to hit ground balls or get taken out.
"If one guy can't, I was going to the next," Dill said. "But what a gutsy performance from Browne. If he can do that all year, I'm going to sleep well."
Browne threw his curveball for strikes and escaped one of his few tough moments in the first inning by getting a ground-ball double play. He induced 10 ground-ball outs and held the Eagles (5-3, 2-1) scoreless until Kohon came on with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh.
Kohon walked in one run, struck out Michael Nesbit, gave up a two-run single to Jim Milkovich, who had three hits, then struck out Jonathan Higashi to end the game.
Chaminade never recovered from a poor start. Pitcher Jason Urquidez didn't make it out of the first inning. He gave up three singles, two walks and three runs before sophomore Sean Clark came in and shut down the Knights.
In six innings, Clark allowed two hits while striking out six. But a two-run single by Robbie Reyes in the fifth proved to be the winning runs.
Browne, who was a starting receiver for Notre Dame's Mission League championship football team, is used to pressure. His part-time job is parking cars at the Beverly Hills Hotel for movie stars and celebrities.
One scratch and he'll be walking home on Sunset Boulevard.
But like parking cars, pitching is a matter of staying focused on the job at hand.
"We just have to throw ground balls," Browne said. "It's great having Brendan and Brewster up the middle. They get you out of a lot of jams."