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Venice, Palisades Battle for 3-A Baseball Crown : Gondoliers, Trying for Second Title in Row, Already Have Beaten Dolphins Twice

Times Staff Writer

The Venice and Palisades high school baseball teams, which meet for the City 3-A championship at 4 p.m. today at Dodger Stadium, have played there before but came away with distinctly different impressions.

Venice’s memories of the big-league ball park are pleasant; those of Palisades are dreary.

The last time that Coach Jeff Shimizu’s Venice Gondoliers played there was last year, and the team won the 3-A title. Dwayne Lortie, then a 15-year-old sophomore whose only previous varsity experience was a two-inning stint, made his first varsity start and scattered six hits in 5 innings as the Gondoliers edged Westchester, 3-2. Junior reliever John Vega picked up for Lortie and got his third save in four playoff games.

In 1982 Coach Jerry Marvin’s Palisades Dolphins lost the 3-A title to Westchester when a Palisades player committed two errors in the fifth inning. In 1981, the year before Marvin added baseball to his basketball coaching duties, Cleveland High pitcher Brett Saberhagen, now a top pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, embarrassed the Dolphins by throwing a no-hitter to lead the Cavaliers to a 4-A City championship.

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Long Rivalry

Marvin’s nine appears overmatched today, but the Dolphins are sure to be up for the title game, a neighborhood contest between schools with a long rivalry.

Venice won the Western League with a 12-3 record, took two of three conference games from Palisades and is 23-6 overall. Palisades is 19-5 and, though the Dolphins tied Westchester for second in the Western League, they were bumped to third place because they lost two of three league games to Westchester.

Each team has a bunch of all-leaguers in its lineup. But Venice has senior first baseman Colin Franker, the Western League player of the year, who has hit three home runs and driven in nine runs in three playoff games. In last week’s 12-5 semifinal win over Los Angeles High, Franker blasted a three-run homer (setting off a six-run inning) that easily cleared the center field fence at the 400-foot mark. For the regular season, he hit .531 with 7 homers and 48 RBIs.

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The Gondoliers also have Lortie and Vega. One will start today.

Lortie’s Arm Trouble

Lortie hasn’t pitched much this season because of arm trouble. But he has a 3-1 record and Shimizu said that the 6-4, 185-pound junior “pitched real hard in the playoffs (in one game), and he may be ready to go.”

Shimizu said he may not know who his starter will be until game time, but he sounded as if he is leaning toward Vega, his top reliever, who throws strikes, is 6-1 with six saves and has been the winning pitcher in relief in the last two playoff games.

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Vega was the starter and winner in the Gondoliers’ 7-4 and 3-0 wins over Palisades. He gave up only three hits in the shutout.

“There aren’t many high school teams that have a short-relief guy like John,” Shimizu, said, “and I think it’s the most important position on the team. Every time he comes in, the game is on the line; so there’s a lot of pressure on him.”

Matsumoto Plays 3 Positions

Marvin has a great clutch player of his own in senior Leonard Matsumoto, a three-year veteran who catches, plays short and is the team’s seldom-needed but top relief pitcher with a 6-2 record and two saves. The Dolphins reached the title game by downing Westchester, 9-4, in last week’s semifinal, and Matsumoto, a .313 hitter going into the playoffs, went 3 for 5 and drove in three runs. He also pitched two innings in relief of winner Ted Kaye (7-3).

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Kaye, in his first year of prep baseball after two years on the volleyball team, will open against Venice. The designated hitter when he’s not pitching, Kaye shut out the Gondoliers on five hits as the Dolphins won, 5-0, for their only victory in three meetings with Venice.

Other top hitters for Palisades are catcher John Dolak, who batted .479 for the regular season with three homers and has twice been all-league, and third baseman Eric Beckerman, a .400 hitter.

Franker isn’t all of the Venice offense, although it often seems that way, especially in the playoffs. Other Gondoliers who have topped .300 are sophomore left fielder Chico Garcia (.388), catcher Bob Tomaselli (.369), infielder John Barba (.333) and right fielder Carl Jackson (.329). Shortstop Mike Sanders, a .250 hitter during the season, has had five timely hits in three playoff games.

Shimizu’s Analysis

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Shimizu said his defending champions won’t have an easy time against Palisades, which he said “has been coming on very hot in the playoffs.”

What does Venice have to do to win? “Number one, we have to get good pitching from (our starter),” Shimizu said, “because they do have a lot of dangerous hitters. Secondly, we have to to play good defense, make the routine play and not get nervous because we’re in the big stadium.

“And we have got to hit the ball. We’re capable of hitting the ball up and down the lineup, and we have to receive a contribution from the lower half of the lineup. We can’t rely on Franker to carry the team, and he’s been doing that every game.”

Marvin said he doesn’t know if his team, which has seven juniors in the lineup, will get Dodger Stadium jitters, something that the 1981 team had in large measure against Saberhagen.

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‘A Lot of Pressure’

“Leonard (Matsumoto) is the only guy who has played (there). When we beat Westchester last week, I’ve never seen a team so high. I think some of that feeling can be transferred into a good game (today). But they’ll be nervous some; there’s a lot of pressure that way.”

Does Palisades have any hopes of stopping Franker? “We don’t,” said Marvin. “We just can’t get that guy out. He’s an awesome hitter, and he scares the living daylight out of me. He has power everywhere; he hits to all fields. It’s just a matter of how much damage he does.

“We might be a little bit stronger in pitching than Venice, and it could come down to who handles the ball better defensively.”

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