Return of Malik ends Ventura’s streak

He’s baaaaaaack.

Malik Heptot played his first game of the season for Dos Pueblos on Friday night, and while his four points and 10 rebounds weren’t mind-blowing, the presence of the 6-foot-9, 250-pound big man allowed the Chargers to hand Ventura its first Channel League loss, 51-45, at Sovine Gym.

“He’s one of the marquee players in this league. We need our marquee players in this league, and I thought he established himself and had a good first game back,” said Ventura coach Dan Larsen, who gave Heptot a big hug during pre-game introductions.

Dos Pueblos’ Matt McClenathen drives to the hoop for a bucket.

Heptot, who missed the first two months of the season with a foot injury, drew attention and freed up co-stars Matt McClenathen and Jay Larinan.

“He opens up a lot of open shots for us by attracting so much attention down below,” said Larinan, who finished with a game-high 19 points. “I feel like I can attack more out of the guard position because I’m more out on the wing.”

The Cougars (13-10, 4-1) led the game 38-37 with just over five minutes remaining, but an inbounds pass to McClenathen gave the senior an easy lay-up and put the Chargers (11-10, 3-2) ahead for good. DP was up 41-39 with 3:04 to go as Robbie Mestas was taken down hard by Ventura’s Nick Rudolph. It led to a personal foul as well as a technical, giving the Chargers four free throws and the ball.

Pablo Miranda hit the first two and Mestas made one of his to make it 44-39. Ryan Koevenig hit two free throws to cut the lead to 47-44 with 44 seconds left, but the Chargers held on.

McClenathen, an athletic 6-foot-4 player like Larinan, finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. Miranda looked comfortable running the offense with the three weapons in front of him, dishing out six assists to go along with 10 points.

PHOTO GALLERY

While Heptot’s physical presence made a big impact, coach Joe Zamora said that his emotion has also done wonders for the team. Heptot didn’t hold anything back on the court, thumping his chest and screaming in celebration down the stretch.

“He’s a very emotional player. He brings a lot of passion to the game and the guys feed off of it,” said Zamora. “Over the last 13 days working with him we’ve seen improvement in the team as a whole from that emotional standpoint… We’re a team, so missing that one family member was hard.”

The Chargers trailed 14-11 at the end of the first quarter, but successive offensive boards and put-backs by Larinan and Heptot made it 17-16 in favor of the Chargers early in the second. McClenathen drove in for a lay-up at the halftime buzzer that sent DP into the locker room up 26-20. Miranda would also beat the buzzer with a 15-footer at the end of the third that kept the advantage at six, 35-29.

Larinan said that the win “sent a statement” to everyone else in the Channel League, and that the Chargers need to keep it going over the final three games of the regular season.

Heptot, meanwhile, is just happy to be back.

“Oh man, it was crazy, like every night how I’d be in room like ‘oh man, six more weeks, then four more weeks. then two more weeks and I’m back,'” he said. “Then I had to wait 13 days to play in my first game. You get really eager to play and it’s hard, but I’m glad I’m back.”

The Chargers are back at it on Tuesday at Santa Barbara.

DOS PUEBLOS 51, VENTURA 45

VENTURA — Houck 5, Wilson 10, Gwin 3, Rudolph 4, Koevenig 6, Neary 2, Tice 6, Garrett 9. Totals 16 11-19 45.

DOS PUEBLOS — Miranda 10, McClenathen 14, Nelson 3, Larinan 19, Heptot 4, Mestas 1. Totals 14 21-30 51.

Ventura…14  6  9  16 — 45

Dos Pueblos…11  15  9  16 — 51

3-point goals — V 2 (Wilson 2), DP 2 (Larinan 2). Total fouls — V 23, DP 17. Fouled out — Garrett. Technical — Rudolph.

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