Venice High School juniors Sarina Dominguez and Angela Huerta led a three-run effort in the ninth inning, which made up for a struggling defense and gave the Gondolier softball team its first Los Angeles City Invitational Division championship with a 9-7 win over Eagle Rock High School at UCLA Wednesday, June 1st.

Venice (20-7), the 16th seed in the city playoffs, earned the Invitational Division title in its first championship game appearance.

The Gondoliers reached the championship game against tenth-seeded Eagle Rock (19-6) after an 18-0 blowout of Franklin High School in the semifinals May 19th.

The city invitational crown capped off an impressive regular season performance by the Gondos, who also won the Western League championship with an undefeated record of 8-0 in league play.

“It feels good, but it’s conflicting whether it feels better than beating Westchester twice,” Venice coach Mike Finegold said of the invitational title.

After losing to Westchester three times last season, Venice defeated the 2004 Western League champion Comets twice this season, including a 7-3 victory April 28th, which clinched the league title.

Venice lost the first game of the city playoffs 3-1 to Kennedy High, but the Gondos then found new life and won four consecutive games in their path to the invitational throne.

Throughout the battle with Eagle Rock, Finegold said Venice struggled on defense, picking up seven errors in the game. But, thankfully, the Venice pitching and offensive efforts erased any defensive problems.

With the score tied 6-6 in the top of the ninth inning, Dominguez, who led the offense with three hits and three RBIs (runs batted in), put Venice ahead with an RBI single. Huerta then hit a single that drove home two more runs for Venice and applied pressure for Eagle Rock on offense.

“They find a way to win,” Finegold said of his players.

Eagle Rock scored one more run in the ninth inning but was unable to respond to Venice’s late rally.

Senior starting pitcher Belinda Leos came up big in seven innings on the mound for Venice, giving up only two runs and no walks. The pitcher also was a factor on offense with two hits, including an RBI.

Sophomore pitcher Stephanie Slotnick closed out the final two innings of the game for Venice and held off a comeback by Eagle Rock.

“She came in a pressure situation and got it done,” Finegold said.

Junior Kayla Sax and freshman Michelle Aver were also key contributors in the invitational victory, Finegold said.

In a season that ended with Venice’s first playoff title, Finegold said the 7-0 victory over Narbonne High was the turning point by giving the Gondos confidence to defeat other top teams, including league rival Westchester.

“I couldn’t predict that we’d beat Westchester twice,” he said.

Although Venice will lose seven senior players to graduation this year, Finegold said he is confident that his team can carry this season’s success into the future.