By Will Simmons

Mattoon forward Faith Niebrugge scored three goals Thursday to upend Pleasant Plains, 4-1, and send the Green Wave into the St. Teresa girls soccer tournament championship.

Mattoon faces Warrensburg-Latham, a 5-3 winner over St. Teresa, in Saturday’s title game at noon.

Niebrugge scored her third goal in dazzling fashion, intercepting a pass at midfield to take the ball all the way downfield before hitting a high-flying, arced shot that found space between a jumping goalie and the crossbar. 

“It was all her,” Mattoon coach Ryan Ghere said. “Nobody helped her at all, and she basically took on four defenders and scored. So that’s one of the better games she’s ever played. I mean, she scored a lot of goals in her career, but that’s probably one of her better games.”

Earlier, Mattoon had looked like a team with the sole objective of trying to protect a 1-0 lead. Pleasant Plains kept attacking and held the ball in Mattoon’s half for more than 10 minutes. All those chances made an equalizer feel inevitable. 

“We just didn’t win balls in the middle to start the second half,” Ghere said. “We talked about it at halftime, and, you know, they control the play in the middle, and that’s why they got all those chances.”

Ghere said the team is still figuring where to best fit certain players into the formation. He moved midfielder Bella Masse behind Mattoon’s four defenders after the equalizer 

“We haven’t quite settled in on where Bella Massey needs to be to help us the most,” Ghere said, “because she’s, I think, she’s played five different positions in two games.”

Niebrugge said her hat-trick was a result of her teammates’ help at crucial times.

“Having girls that can play over the top really helped me get in front of those other girls and get those goals,” she said. “So I couldn’t do it without them.”

Niebrugge said she doesn’t know how many hat-tricks she has collected playing for MHS, although she is more interested in winning tournament games, especially after the disrupted seasons of the past couple years due to the pandemic.

‘It’s my senior year, so we got to the championship,” Niebrugge said. “The past few years, we haven’t been able to do tournaments, so it means a lot to me being able to get here.”