Oakwood Paced by Butler's 32

Times Staff Writer

It probably did not alter the outcome, but at the time it seemed awfully symbolic.

Bobby Gaskill of West Valley Christian High made a steal at the start of the second half against Oakwood on Tuesday night and although his team trailed by 14 points, maybe he was putting the Seekers on the comeback trail.

But in decisive fashion, Oakwood's Mitchell Butler made sure he did not.

With a callous wave of his hand, Butler blocked Gaskill's shot and at the same time sent the message of the evening: There was to be no messing with the Gorillas.

Oakwood swatted away West Valley Christian, 63-34, in the second-round Southern Section Small Schools Division playoff game at Campbell Hall.

How fitting, too, that Butler punctuated the evening with the block. The 6-5 junior spent the rest of the evening almost single-handedly rejecting West Valley Christian's hopes with a 32-point, 14-rebound performance.

"We wanted to come out and play good defense," Butler said of the block. "So I think that it sparked myself and the team as a whole."

But for all practical purposes, the damage had been done to the Seekers a quarter earlier when Oakwood, the top-seeded team in the division, scored 11 consecutive points to extend a 14-11 first-quarter lead to 25-11.

"I think we had a little bit of nerves," Oakwood Coach Roz Goldenberg said. "But I think it's the mark of a good team to do what you set out to do and we did, playing good defense and holding them to 15 points in the first half."

Of course, the fact that the Seekers spent much of the first half searching for the hoop helped the Gorillas. West Valley Christian (17-3) shot 32% in the first two quarters.

And the Seekers were lucky to get as many shots off as they did.

A swarming, trapping Gorilla defense led by feisty guard Eric Leddel forced many Seeker turnovers.

And before West Valley Christian knew what had clubbed it over the head, Oakwood (22-2) led, 47-21, with 1:44 left in the third quarter.

The only mystery left was how many points Butler would score. And after a few more sweeping drives through the lane and several 15-foot jump shots, the All-Southern Section forward had scored one more point than his season average of 31.

But he wasn't finished.

With 1:29 to play and the score 59-34, Butler picked up a loose ball and raced down the court alone. As the Oakwood fans rose to their feet, Butler soared for a slam that could have capped the evening wonderfully.

But Butler rocked the dunk off the heel of the rim.

And with that, he sent a final message: Nobody's perfect.

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