A wise older man once imparted some sage playoff wisdom to Andy Nussbaum.
"(Former Naperville Central football coach) Joe Bunge once told me the first playoff game is always the toughest," said Redhawks coach Nussbaum. "The first 29 games we played, we didn't have to turn in uniforms if we lost."
That's not a worry for Naperville Central, at least not yet.
The No. 3 seed Redhawks did what higher-seeded teams always hope to do Tuesday, breaking out to a big early lead on No. 14 East Aurora, keeping the Tomcats at arm's length and coming home with a 49-35 win at the Class 4A Benet regional.
Naperville Central (24-6), which advances to play Benet Thursday, jumped out 12-2 early and never saw that margin dip below 8 the rest of the way.
"It was nice to have a lead in that first quarter," Nussbaum said. "I thought we played solid. Wasn't flashy, but a good team effort."
Victoria Trowbridge, one of three senior starters, scored 17 points with 10 rebounds, and senior Laura Dierking had 12 points and 10 boards.
"We did what we had to do," Trowbridge said. "We were crashing the boards, playing good defense. We weren't perfect, we made some mistakes, but we got it done."
Five of Dierking's rebounds came at the offensive end, no surprise coming from the hard-working Redhawks forward.
"She does all the dirty work," Nussbaum said. "She cleans up after everything."
Nussbaum could perhaps most hang his hat on his team's defense on East Aurora senior Tyshee Towner. A night after Towner went off for 40 points against Plainfield Central, the Redhawks held her to 16, 7 coming in the fourth quarter. Naperville Central started off in man-to-man but went zone after Shannon Ryan got her second foul. East Aurora scored just 21 points over the first three quarters.
"We thought zone would be OK," Nussbaum said. "(Towner) is pretty good."
Fellow East Aurora senior Desiree Rhodes had a strong game with 14 points, 9 in the fourth quarter, and 10 rebounds before fouling out. The Tomcats (12-13) did make a big jump from a four-win season a year ago, but beating a team like Naperville Central is another story.
"Naperville Central has better skilled kids than we do and they made some plays," East Aurora coach William Anderson said. "I cannot complain about the effort. I'm very proud of this team."
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