TUSCOLA — As a freshman last season, Lexie Niebrugge played in the regular season but didn't see much time in Teutopolis' run to the Class 2A state final four.
Even without the postseason experience, Niebrugge wasn't fazed by the playoffs. She came out of the gates firing in Monday's 61-36 win over Pana in the Class 2A Tuscola sectional semifinals. With the win, the Shoes clinched their spot in Thursday's sectional championship for a re-match against Sullivan.
Niebrugge shot from everywhere, hardly even grazing the rim. She scored a game-high 23 points, knocked down four 3-pointers and was 9-of-14 from the field. Once a few started falling, she was completely settled into the game.
“It makes me more comfortable when I hit shots early because it gives me more confidence when I shoot it," Niebrugge said.
For Teutopolis (30-4), it's another day and another trip to the sectional championship game. The Shoes played with a near-clinical approach. They zipped the ball around, didn't take errant shots or force bad passes and distributed to everyone.
Claire Bushur did damage in the post with nine points, Morgan Mette used her speed to get around Pana (22-10) defenders to score seven points and Olivia Niemerg came off the bench with eight points.
It was another day in another successful season.
“They were calm," T-Town coach Laurie Thompson said of her team. "That’s kind of what we’ve been talking about: Play our style, play our game and just do what we’ve been doing for the last 33 games. That’s the goal."
Pana coach Jason Storm knew he had to pick his poison. He could have his defenders give the Shoes space so they couldn't use their speed to turn the corner and get to the lane, or he could pressure them close to take away Teutopolis' shooting ability. Storm elected to play off, a different style of defense than he usually plays.
For the most part, he thought his team did a good job defensively, but Teutopolis is methodical on offense. The Shoes move the ball side-to-side, inside-and-out, to break down a defense, passing up good shots for better shots.
“They shoot the ball really well and they move the ball very well," Storm said. "They’re patient enough with it. We may start out and do a great job guarding it and they’re going to keep running the back-and-forth and eventually you’re going to have a breakdown and they’re going to score off of it."
Pana hung with Teutopolis for about a quarter and a half behind the play of senior Shania Schoonover (14 points) and freshman Jillian Hamilton (13 points), but a 12-1 Teutopolis run that spanned five minutes in the second quarter gave the Shoes a commanding 32-16 at halftime.
“They’re hard to trade blows with," Storm said.
She may be a sophomore, but Niebrugge knows exactly the reputation that T-Town has. The Shoes have won the sectional championship in five of the last six seasons and have gone to the state tournament in three of the last five years.
They do it the same way: Defense, limiting turnovers and making shots — a seemingly easy recipe for success.
“T-Town is always expected to be good," Niebrugge said. "I just work hard and my teammates work hard and we have to be the best."
Teutopolis beat Sullivan in the sectional championship last season and has a win over the Redskins early this season.
"Obviously they improved and we’ve improved," Thompson said. "It’s the same thing. We need to play our type of game and see what happens."