The players on Kennedy High School's basketball team are wearing T-shirts this season that read, "Strive for Five", in reference to four straight appearances in the Southern Section playoffs.
But after Wednesday night's 70-56 loss to Katella, the Irish may want to change the slogan to "Strive to Stay Alive."
The loss was the third straight for Kennedy in Empire League play and another loss in the next 11 games will all but eliminate it from playoff contention in the eight-team league.
Katella (2-1) scored its fourth straight win as forward Bob Erbst and center Richard Lucas combined to score 54 of the Knights' 70 points. Erbst had 17 points in the opening eight minutes of play, but got his third foul with 3:33 left in the second quarter and sat on the bench the remainder of the half.
Erbst, a 6-foot 8-inch senior, finished with 30 points, despite fouling out with 3:34 left to play. He was 11 of 17 from the field and 8 of 9 at the free-throw line. Lucas scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half and finished with 14 rebounds.
"Tonight was Erbst and zilch," said Tom Danley, Katella coach. "Erbst played well. He started to get into his game. He's the hub and the rest of the team are spokes."
That was obvious in the second quarter when Erbst went to the bench. The Knights had a 33-22 lead, but made only one free throw the rest of the half as Kennedy caught the Knights, 34-34, at halftime.
Kennedy fell behind, 50-42, with 1:48 left in the third quarter following a three-point play by Lucas, and the Irish could never catch up despite Erbst's early exit. Afterward, Kennedy Coach John Mayberry admitted the chances of gaining another playoff spot were slim.
"A team can lose four games in this league and get to the playoffs," he said. "We did it two years ago when we beat El Dorado in a playoff for the final spot. But time is running out."