CHAMPAIGN -- After an incredible stretch of defense, Teutopolis spotted itself a double-digit lead four minutes in.
The Shoes never let Bloomington Central Catholic come closer than six until the Saints suddenly landed a punch. Lexi Davis hit a jumper, and then Sydney Shanks immediately stole the ball and swooped in for a layup.
With less than a minute left, Teutopolis nursed a two-point lead as the air escaped the Shoes' sidelines.
That's when Anna Hartke grabbed her team and ran. She sank two free throws, grabbed the rebound after a miss on the other end before sinking two more.
Teutopolis held on for a 52-45 win in Class 2A Champaign Super-sectional on Monday. It makes for the second trip to state in the last three years.
"It's awesome," Hartke said. "I was really nervous there, but I knew I had to knock those down. If I didn't, I give them a chance to get back into the game. I just buckled down. If I could do it every day in practice, I could do it now."
With two and a half minutes left, Teutopolis (27-6) had a 45-39 lead and coach Laurie Thompson called for a stall. The Shoes shaved more than a minute off the clock before Central Catholic (24-7) fouled Hartke. She missed -- only one of three shots as she was 5-of-7 from the floor and 7-of-8 from the line -- before the Saints took their best shot.
"I thought they came down and they exploited a little bit of a mismatch we had inside, and I wanted to get in the fewest possessions as possible," Thompson said. "I decided to pull it out a little bit and make good baskets, try to slow it down.
"But, yeah, that was close. But we made free throws."
While Hartke, who finished with 17 points, closed the game, it was Shelby Thompson who kicked it off.
The junior, who had a game-high 22 points, made her first 3 a minute in before hitting five more through the night. Thompson made all three of her attempts in the third quarter, including one that rolled around the rim and touched glass before falling through.
"When I hit that first one, I was getting more confident," she said.
Her coach and mother said the gameplan was to drive the ball inside. But after seeing Shelby knock a few down, she wasn't going to argue.
"That was big that Shelby hit those 3s," Laurie Thompson said. "Some of those were, 'Oh my gosh, what are we doing?' But you know what, she's confident in it and it definitely helps spread the floor."
Teutopolis went to the inside game in the second quarter as Hartke started finding her way to the hoop. It was a gameplan that worked for T-Town when it played Central Catholic two weeks ago (won by T-Town 55-39), and on Parkland's floor no less.
That game helped prepare them for Central Catholic's 1-2-2 press as well. While the Saints used it partially in the first game, they threw it out against the Shoes all Monday night.
T-Town didn't waver. The press caused one turnover, and there were multiple times that had the Saints scrambling back to cover an open shooter.
"We knew they were going to press the whole time," T-Town's Danielle Repking said. "We practiced that in the gym. We knew it was coming. We had to buckle down and break it."
Now Teutopolis is back in a familiar spot -- headed to Illinois State's Redbird Arena. It comes after an injury-riddled season where T-Town had a up and down year before making the sectional finals. Monday was a chance to show what might have been it Teutopolis was full strength last year.
"They know that feeling last year, that sectional," Laurie Thompson said. "It's a feeling you don't like, but guess what, this is a better feeling and this is what you've been working for."
The Saints, while led by 5-foot-9 Sydney Shanks, can trot out three players that touch 5-foot-11.
And in the second half, that nearly pushed Central Catholic to a win. Ellie Stevens, a 5-foot-10 junior, came in and made all five of her shots -- all in the last 10 minutes of the game.
"I knew it was going to be a whale of a ballgame and I knew she was going to play her bigs a little bit more because we can't match up with them," Thompson said. "They almost got it."
It wasn't quite the same game as the one the two played two weeks ago, but many of T-Town's coaches and players said that experience was invaluable.
Thompson's outside shot changed that, as did the emergence of BCC's Ellie Stevens, who didn't score at all the game before.
But the Shoes continued to drive into the lane and draw contact. After going 14-of-21 from the line the first time, they went 14-of-20 on Monday.
"Just stay calm and rely on your teammates and rely on what you know," Jamie Sandschafer said.
Westchester St. Joseph handled Chicago Raby 63-43. While St. Joseph's boys have five state trophies and two championships -- including last year's -- this is the first time the girls have been to the state tournament.