Malibu puts up tough fight against Oaks Christian

Malibu’s Justin Holmes powers his way for a layup against Oaks Christian. 

Welcome to the big leagues, boys. 

After winning the Frontier League championship last year, the Malibu High boys basketball team was elevated into the highly competitive Tri-Valley League. In its home league opener last week, Malibu entertained athletic powerhouse Oaks Christian. Despite a valiant second-half effort, the Sharks succumbed to the Lions, 46-37, before a boisterous home crowd. 

The step up in competition has proved for tough hoeing early. Malibu is 6-13 overall and 0-3 so far in league play. The losses in league have come at the hands of St. Bonaventure (48-41), Oaks Christian and, last Saturday, Santa Clara (59-44). 

“We just haven’t been in a league where they actually care about winning. Last year, the Frontier League could care less. Each team in this league is good and knows how to win,” Malibu Coach Bobby Tenorio said. “It was a big accomplishment for us last season but we made a huge jump this year. There are no doormat games. We have to work for everything that we get.” 

Malibu center Justin Holmes scored 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the defeat to the Lions. Holmes was very familiar with Oaks Christian as he had played with many of the Lions players and coaches on his club team this past summer. 

“Oaks Christian is a rival team. Many of the kids that go there are from Malibu,” Holmes said. “Even though we are young and inexperienced, I thought we played with a lot of effort. We didn’t want to get blown out. We wanted to prove something. We wanted to prove that we are not a joke.” 

After a tough loss on the road at St. Bonaventure to begin league action, the Sharks were prepared for the talented team from over the mountains in Westlake Village. Leading 10-8 with 3:23 remaining in the first quarter, Oaks Christian went on an 11-0 run to take a commanding 13-point lead into the early part of the second quarter. Holmes scored on a layup to temporarily stop the bleeding, but the Lions roared back with another 9-2 run to lead 30-12 at the half. 

“I challenged them at halftime,” Tenorio said. “I said to them, ‘We are down by 18 points. We could either go out of here losing by 30 or do you want to make it a game? It’s up to you guys.’ They took the challenge and made it a game. Now we have to build upon it.” 

Malibu answered the call. After each team made a basket to begin the second half, junior Anthony Kodomichalos knocked down a three-pointer from the left wing followed by a backdoor layup from freshman Frankie McGovern. 

Five-foot-four spark plug Andrew Yazdani then converted a three-point play the old fashioned way when he knifed his way into the paint, got fouled and scored on a layup that sent him sprawling to the floor. His free throw capped a 10-0 Sharks run that cut the deficit to 32-22. 

With the crowd screaming and momentum swinging toward MHS, Oaks Christian answered on its last two possessions of the third quarter to increase the lead to 36-22 heading into the final period. 

The fourth quarter became a personal showcase for Holmes as he single-handedly tried to will his team back. Holmes scored 12 of Malibu’s 15 points only for Oaks Christian to answer each of his baskets with a bucket of its own. 

“The energy was there throughout the game but it was erratic,” Tenorio said. “The team was hyped up for its first league home game. Especially against Oaks Christian. I think we prepared well but we made too many mistakes in the second quarter. The second half we outplayed them.” 

Despite the loss, Holmes said the team had come far since the beginning of the regular season. The Sharks hustled throughout the game, including taking five charges, three of which were taken by Kodomichalos and one each by Will Rosenthal and Boogie Baldwin. 

“I’m very confident. I am most pumped on this team as I have been all year,” said Holmes, who is averaging 18.5 points per game and 12.9 rebounds per game on the season. “I wasn’t sure how we were going to compete in the Tri-Valley League, but we came out and played hard against Oaks Christian. We had a chance to win but couldn’t pull it out.

“We wanted Oaks Christian to know that if you are going to beat us, you are going to have to earn it. And they did,” Tenorio added. “But I am really proud of my guys and how they competed.” 

Malibu plays host to Oak Park on Friday night at 7 p.m.