Malibu Little League alums win CIF championship

Oaks Christian High baseball players Elijah Clayton (left) and Royce Clayton Jr. (right) are shown with Steve Prudholme, who coached the brothers in the Malibu Little League. Photos Courtesy of Steve Prudholme.

A quartet of baseball players and coaches that won a handful of championships in the Malibu Little League won one out of two CIF championships on the diamond recently. 

Oaks Christian High School baseball players and brothers Elijah Clayton, a sophomore, and Royce Clayton Jr., a senior, and their father, Lions head coach Royce Clayton Sr., and assistant coach Pete Cannon were part of the MLL’s Dodgers and Braves clubs that captured six titles in the youth league between 2011 and 2017.

The Lions were defeated by the Newport Harbor Sailors, 5-1, in the CIF SoCal Division Baseball Championships on June 4 at Oaks Christian in Westlake Village. The Lions did nab a title win on May 21 though. The squad downed the La Quinta Blackhawks 1-0 to win the CIF Southern Section Baseball Division 3 Championship at Cal State Fullerton.

Clayton Sr., the Oaks Christian coach, was unsure that the Lions would be motivated to play in the SoCal tournament so quickly after winning the Southern Section title but noted that the team members wanted to play with each other and win together.

“They love each other as brothers,” said Clayton Sr., who played 17 seasons in Major League Baseball, after the loss to Newport Harbor. “For them to come out and get to this point is high praise to the kind of guys we have. We have a lot of guys coming back next season that we are looking forward to, so we will look at this loss as if we have some unfinished work to do.” 

Oaks Christian’s strength this season, said Clayton Sr., a 1997 MLB All-Star, was their brotherly love. In fact, “Brothers” will be engraved on the top of their CIF championship rings. 

“Not playing for yourself, but playing for each other and being selfless,” Clayton Sr. said. “That is how we got there. It was a total team effort.”

Oaks Christian won seven straight games in the postseason before losing to Newport Harbor. Royce Clayton Jr. told the media after the contest that the Lions came together in the playoffs. 

“It was so much fun to be a part of this,” said the outfielder, who will play college baseball at either the University of Hawaii or Cal State Fullerton next season. “I’ll move on with a lot of good memories.”

The Sailors grabbed an early lead by scoring two runs in the first inning. Elijah Clayton led off for the Lions by hitting a ball that rocketed by the Sailors’ third baseman for a single. However, the inning ended with the Lions failing to score a run. In the fourth inning, Clayton Jr. prevented the visiting team from scoring another run. The center fielder corralled a ball hit deep in the outfield by a Sailors’ batter and slung it all the way to home plate in time for a runner to be tagged out. 

The Sailors put three more runs in the sixth inning. Lions senior Patrick Chute hit a leadoff home run in the next inning. The Sailors’ defense held Oaks Christian’s offense in check the rest of the inning to solidify their 5-1 win. 

The Lions beat Newport Harbor 3-2 on May 17 in Newport Beach to advance to Southern Section championship contest last month.

The Sailors, Clayton Sr. said, played a great game to beat the Lions on their home field. 

“Hats off to them,” he said. “They beat us at home which isn’t easy to do. They returned the favor after we beat them at their home.”

Oaks Christian beat Francis Parker 6-5 in the opening round of the SoCal regional tournament. Then it beat Grossmont 4-2 to advance to the championship game against Newport Harbor. The Lions’ Southern Section title run began with an 8-6 win over Rio Mesa. They continued with a 4-3 win over Kaiser and a 13-5 win over Palm Desert before facing the Sailors for the first time.

The younger Claytons made big plays for the Lions all over the diamond during their title run, including Clayton Jr.’s two-run home run in the contest against Rio Mesa that broke a 6-6 tie. 

The group had plenty of success in the MLL. As the Dodgers, they won the league’s minors division in 2011 and repeated as division champs the following year. That same season, the Giants, coached by Mario Miranda, who was also once on the Oaks Christian coaching staff, won the middles division. Royce Jr. was in the lineup for that club also. As the Braves, the group won the AAA division in the Little League in 2014. The Braves won the majors division each season from 2015 to 2017. 

Clayton Sr. got the head coaching job at Oaks Christian in September 2016. Cannon and Miranda joined his coaching staff soon after. The Lions went 16-13 in Clayton’s first season at the helm and 13-14-1 the next. The team went 17-16 in 2019, and 5-3-1 in the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season. Last season, the Lions finished 6-14.

This year’s team finished with a 23-12 record but missed out on winning the Marmonte League title when it lost its regular-season finale in late April. To top off the successful season, earlier this week Clayton Sr. was named CIF Southern Section Division 3 Coach of the Year, while Elijah was named the division’s Player of the Year.

Steve Prudholme, whose son and daughter played on the Dodgers and Braves teams with the younger Claytons, was the head coach of those teams. He doesn’t coach at Oaks Christian but is involved with the baseball program. Prudholme is excited about the Claytons and Cannon, the assistant coach, winning a CIF title. 

“It’s gratifying to see something bigger than yourself that you are a part of come to fruition,” he said. “Winning is the end goal, but the process is a part of that — the ups and downs. To see success come at the end of it is just gratifying.” 

Clayton Sr. said having a successful CIF postseason with his sons and Cannon is special and he will always remember their times in the diamond in the MLL. 

“I thank the Malibu Little League for giving me the opportunity to coach there, win championships there, and form relationships,” he said. 

The coach is happy his sons got to win a championship together. Royce Jr. was a big reason the Lions reached a championship level, and Elijah made big plays also, their dad said. 

“Them winning a championship together is a moment they will never forget,” Clayton Sr. said. 

He expects Elijah and another Malibuite on the squad, sophomore Ollie Mitchell, to be better players next season. 

“The message is to continue to work hard,” Clayton Sr. said. “We are proud of what we achieved and nobody can ever take it away from them.”