The Venice High School girls softball team proved there is no question which team ruled the Western League this season after Venice clinched the league title with a 7-3 win over defending league champion Westchester High School Thursday, April 28th.

The Venice High Gondoliers and Westchester High Comets met in Westchester for their second battle this year in the league’s biggest rivalry.

The Gondos (15-6, 9-0) came out on top in the first meeting with a 2-1 victory over Westchester (15-5, 7-2) April 11th, but the second match-up had more at stake, with the league title on the line.

Venice was riding high with a dominating run through the league this season, and after claiming victory for the second time over the Comets, the Gondos ended league play undefeated.

Westchester finished its league season in second place.

Last season it was Westchester that owned the top spot in the league and the edge over Venice with three victories against the Gondos. But this season, Venice emerged as the team to beat and overtook the league throne.

“It feels great to win,” Venice coach Mike Finegold said of the Westchester victory. “It’s always a rivalry and usually pretty even.

“They’ve beaten us a lot so it’s sweet for the seniors.”

Venice senior starting pitcher Belinda Leos pitched a full seven innings in the second victory over Westchester and said the team was proud to finally capture a league championship.

“We’ve been waiting four years for it,” said Leos, who finished with four strikeouts. “Everyone played their part and did their job.”

While Venice had a senior pitcher to help lead the defense, Westchester had to rely on a freshman, Shenaaz Burrell, to step up to the starting pitcher position.

Burrell has filled the role well for the Comets this season and she finished with nine strikeouts after pitching a full seven innings against Venice.

Comets coach Andre Neal said his team has had a successful run in recent seasons, but Venice made a statement this season.

“The best team won today,” Neal said. “I have to give them credit — they put the ball in play. We made some mistakes fundamentally.”

After both teams were held scoreless in the first three innings, the Gondos were the first team to jump on the scoreboard, with three runs in the fourth inning.

Venice junior Kayla Sax narrowly missed an inside-the-park home run to start the inning after she was tagged out at home by Westchester senior catcher Tatiana Hankins.

The Gondos made up for the play with more big hits in the next at-bats, including an RBI (run batted in) single by freshman Michelle Aver for the team’s first run. Senior Krista Redick put Venice ahead 3-0 after sending home two runs off a single.

“I was not too surprised,” Finegold said. “We’re one of the best hitting teams and we have a lot of power.”

Westchester also used the fourth inning to demonstrate its hitting strength when senior Ashley McDaniels stepped up to the plate and hit a home run to left field for the Comets’ first score of the game.

The defensive effort of both teams prevented any more runs in the fifth inning. The tough Westchester defense continued in the sixth inning when Burrell struck out two Venice batters in a row to keep the Gondos scoreless.

McDaniels connected another big hit in the sixth inning with a triple and scored on an RBI single by junior Kristen Robinson to put the Comets within one run.

Although Venice appeared to struggle early in the seventh inning after getting two outs in its first three at-bats, the team went on a hitting rally to boost its one-run lead. Sax kicked off the four-run rally with an RBI double for a 4-2 lead.

Junior Sarina Dominguez highlighted the offensive attack with a triple that sent three runs home and put Venice comfortably ahead at 7-2.

“It was nice to get those runs in the seventh inning,” Finegold said. “We didn’t play our best defensive game but we came through when it was important.”

Westchester tried to execute a comeback in its last at-bat and added one more run to trail 7-3 after an RBI double by sophomore slugger Amanda Khryssi Steele, who has 30 hits this season.

Steele stole third base to get in scoring position, but was tagged out at home to end the game.

Venice finished with a total of 11 hits in the game to nine hits for Westchester.

With the league season behind them, both Venice and Westchester will now set their sights on making another successful run in the playoffs.

“They’re focused,” Finegold said of his players. “They were down early in the season, but they’re really flying high now.”

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