Tom Danley, Katella High School basketball coach, often refers to star player Bob Erbst as "the hub" and the remainder of the Knights' basketball team as "the spokes."
On Friday night, the hub cracked but the spokes kept the wheel rolling as the Knights scored a 69-60 win over Damien in front of 2,000 fans at Cypress College.
The victory moved Katella into the CIF Southern Section 3-A division semifinals, where it will meet Hacienda Heights Wilson on Tuesday night. Wilson advanced with a 69-60 victory over Claremont.
Erbst, a 6-foot 9-inch senior who has signed with USC, got into foul trouble soon after he took off his warmups. He was never a factor, scoring just 14 points and fouling out with 6:34 left in the game.
Still, the Knights managed to hold off Damien and avenge last year's 80-68 loss to the Spartans in the quarterfinals. But it wasn't easy.
Katella (24-3) opened a 35-17 lead midway through the second quarter by combining a full-court press with some excellent shooting. But when Erbst was assessed his third foul with 3:33 left in the half, the momentum began to swing in Damien's favor.
Danley refused to take Erbst out of the game and he quickly became a defensive liability. The Spartans slowly cut the big deficit to just eight points at halftime.
Damien was given an added boost with only two seconds left in the half when Erbst picked up his fourth foul. Now, there was hope that Erbst would make an early exit.
Later, Danley defended his decision to keep his star player in the game with a big lead.
"There are a lot of schools of thought about whether you keep a player in the game who's in foul trouble," he said. "Without the hub, we might as well have kissed off this game. Just his presence was a factor. When he fouled out, I thought the roof was going to cave in."
Instead, the Katella guards came to the rescue. Wayne Petrakis and Steve Stierstofer made some clutch shots and key free throws down the stretch, and the closest Damien ever got was six points.
Petrakis' three-point play early in the third quarter moved Katella in front, 41-30, but the Knights could never put a pesky Damien team away. Finally, a driving layup by forward Darrell Baldwin with 57 seconds remaining pushed Katella ahead, 67-56, and the game was out of the Spartans' reach.
Damien, which finished the season at 21-8, had only one solid performer. Forward Kevin Partington, the school's career scoring leader, led all scorers with 30 points but no other Damien player reached double figures.
"They're better than we are, and we needed to play a good game to beat them," said Mike LeDuc, Damien coach. "We're not a good enough team to get behind like we did in the first quarter and then come back against a good team. But we gave it a heck of an effort."
Danley said his team's first-period performance was the best quarter of basketball his team has played this season. The Knights jumped to a 17-8 lead with 2:30 remaining when junior center Richard Lucas stole an inbound pass and dunked to the delight of the partisan crowd.
The Knights appeared to be in control when Erbst got into foul trouble and suddenly the intensity at both ends of the court was gone.
"I thought we took them out of their offense with the press, and then we let down," Danley said. "We should have put them away four or five times, but we didn't. People think I'm crazy when I say this, but we're not playing well.
"We've won 24 games and still haven't played a complete game. I'm happy to be in the semifinals where I honestly think anything can happen from here on out."
The veteran coach is hoping this is finally Katella's year. The Knights have qualified for the playoffs in 20 consecutive seasons, but have never won a title. They reached the 3-A championship game in 1973 and 1974.