There are nights, and there are nights. But Mitchell Butler had a night.
After watching Butler's 50-point, 17-rebound, 4-steal and 3-blocked shot performance in Oakwood's 55-47 win over Ribet Christian on Friday night, observers searched for superlatives. Was it the greatest single performance in the history of high school basketball?
That's probably going too far. Let's play it safe and call it the most dominating performance anyone present in the Woodbury University gym had seen in a long, long time.
A roll call of observers:
"Fan-tas-tic," Oakwood Coach Roz Goldenberg sputtered between hugs from elated fans.
"Never better," said Oakwood guard Eric Leddel, one of the few and the proud who scored two of Oakwood's five non-Butler points.
"He's fantastic, he's Oakwood, he can do it all," Ribet Christian Coach Ernest Dailey said.
And from Butler, the 6-foot, 5-inch junior forward, himself?
"I don't know. I don't know what's going on," he stammered on his way to the locker room after the game.
Fair enough. It is hard to figure out what is going on when you have single-handedly outscored an entire team. The victory in the Southern Section Small Schools Division quarterfinal round game not only dazzled the crowd, it moved Oakwood (23-2) into the semifinals Tuesday against Boron, which defeated Hemet Baptist Christian on Friday, 66-61.
But it's also hard to figure out what's going on when a player scores 50 points and his team still flirts with defeat.
To be sure, a scrappy, quick group of Fighting Frogs (19-5) almost spoiled the Oakwood party with an array of rainbow bombs and a never-say-set-up offense that nearly ran the Gorillas out of the gym.
After trailing, 17-8, after one quarter, the Frogs hopped into action by scoring 11 consecutive points in a two-minute span of the second quarter to pull to within 23-22. From there, Oakwood would never lead by more than eight, and that margin came only at the final buzzer.
"We took them out of it in the first quarter and thought that we set the tone of the game," Goldenberg said. "But they came back and they deserve so much credit."
Much of that credit goes to junior Maurice Johnson and senior point guard Dale Santa Ana, whose 16 and 15 points, respectively, kept the Gorillas in fits. By the time the second half rolled around, it was Butler vs. Ribet Christian.
And a pattern developed:
Butler 2. Frogs 2.
Butler 2. Frogs 2.
The tennis-match style of trading hoops finally came to a peak with 3:50 left to play when Oakwood's Marc Williams, one of the other answers to a future trivia question with his two points, stole an errant pass.
Butler converted the turnover into a free throw to break the pattern, giving Oakwood a 51-46 lead and license to enter a spread offense after the ensuing Ribet Christian miss.
With the Frogs scrambling wildly for the ball, Leddel somehow managed to lob a 30-foot aerial toward the hoop. Flying in from the baseline, 48 points strong, was Butler, who took the pass and rammed home an electrifying stuff for a 53-47 lead with 21 seconds left.
Fifty points for Butler. Game, set, match for Oakwood.
Come on, Mitch, this had to be your best game ever, right?
Finally, a sheepish grin.
"Yeah, you could say that," he said.