Malibu Lions are Fit to be Tied

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Graham Knox pitched a solid game on the mound.

As Pony League season winds down over the next month, 10 of the 12 players on the Malibu Lions’ “A” roster will play their final games of youth baseball before making the jump to high school hardball in June.

After years of tee-ball, little league and now pony (seventh and eighth graders), every player on the Lions, with the exception of seventh graders Russell Kish and Brian Rubenstein, will move on to the next level.

Each practice and each game is a valuable learning tool for the players to work together and understand the nuances of baseball, taught by Coach Phil Johnson and his staff. Last Thursday’s game against the Newbury Park Pirates was another example of how the game of baseball can humble you but, at the same time, bring out the best in you.

Trailing 3-1 after two innings and 4-2 after five frames, the Lions rallied to take a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the sixth, only to surrender the game-tying run in the seventh inning. Malibu could not produce the winning run in the bottom of the seventh and the game was declared a 5-5 tie with dusk arriving.

The Lions could only muster together three hits, while missing golden opportunities with runners on base.

Despite some of the inefficiency at times, the Lions played with resiliency, rallying multiple times to almost pull out the victory, high atop Malibu Bluffs Park.

Luke Mincer’s prestigious home run over the left center field wall cut the deficit to 3-2 and his run in the bottom of the fifth narrowed Newbury Park’s lead to 4-3.

“I was protecting the plate and I was anticipating a curveball, but it was a fastball,” said Mincer, who went 2 for 2, with two runs scored and two stolen bases. “Our coach always tells us to make that adjustment to react on a fastball if you are waiting on a curveball, and I did.”

Mincer’s first home run this season at Bluffs was the first of two extra base hits on the day by the Lions. A booming double by Colter Barish brought home Louie Thrall and Graham Knox to give Malibu (5-4-1) a brief 5-4 lead before an enthusiastic home crowd.

“It felt really good to put the team ahead,” said Barish of his crushing hit to right center.

Newbury Park (2-6-2) rallied with a run in the seventh to tie the game before Mother Nature intervened, halting the game due to darkness.

Knox threw a solid five innings, giving up four runs, six hits while striking out six batters. Lewis Baron pitched an effective inning and a third, allowing no earned runs with two strikeouts.

“I couldn’t really focus on hitting but my pitching was better than most days,” Knox said. “Overall, it was a pretty good outing.”

The game didn’t produce the win the Malibu faithful wanted, but, in the end, it’s the journey that is most important, rather than the immediate result.

Johnson expressed his appreciation for this squad that forms a talented core of future Sharks.

“This group is different than past years because they are a group of baseball junkies. They are disappointed and mad when we only practice one or two days a week,” Johnson explained. “If it was up to them and they were making the schedule, they would practice four or five times a week and play two games a week.”

The “A” team, also known as the Malibu American League roster, is combined with a “B” team of seventh graders (National League roster) to create two Malibu Pony teams.

The “B” team is currently undefeated (4-0-1) and comprises another group of promising young players from Malibu. The two teams practice together during the week and have formed a special bond with each other.

“They all pull for each other. When there are games here, you will see ‘B’ guys walking around supporting the ‘A’ team and vice-versa,” said Johnson. “We do a lot of things together. They are beginning to bond, which is going to be big for the future because high school teams are formulated at different ages.”

Barish and Knox shared their enthusiasm of the Lions playing together soon at MHS.

“It’s good that we are all working together now so when we get to high school, we will have a stronger core for our varsity team,” Barish said.

“We are all friends. It’s really good having us all go to high school together,” added Knox. “We’ve known each other for a long time. It’s a good advantage for us and hopefully it will be a good experience.”