ST. JOSEPH — With 90 seconds to play, Unity center Aaron Larson stole Teutopolis' inbounds pass and converted the layup, drawing the Rockets within two points of the state's fifth-ranked team in Class 2A.
The Wooden Shoes' tough, physical presence prevailed, however, and they defeated Unity 69-61 on Tuesday night in a St. Joseph-Ogden Sectional semifinal.
"I can't ask anything else from my team. We just couldn't get that last bucket to fall," Rockets coach Bill Ipsen said.
Teutopolis (25-2) gave Larson, Unity's leading scorer, fits throughout the game. He was guarded closely by Wooden Shoes junior Kyle Pruemer and held to eight rebounds — his lowest tally in seven games.
"All game they did a good job on Aaron. He couldn't get around them, or when he could he was too far away from the basket," Ipsen said.
Despite his frustration, Larson scored a team-high 23 points, all but seven in the second half.
In the first quarter, the Rockets (24-4) turned the ball over five times and got called for two offensive fouls. With two minutes left in the first half, two Unity starters were relegated to the bench with three fouls. They did not let their struggles dampen their spirits, however.
Unity's Taylor Black kept his team in the game with tough defense and inspired offense.
The senior stole the ball four times in the opening half and scored 17 of his 22 points in that span.
Black's hot shooting in the second quarter brought Unity within one, 27-26, after a pair of free throws. Then Zach Thorson, in for his foul-plagued brother, stole the ball and finished with a layup to give the Rockets a 28-27 lead just before halftime.
"We were disappointed because we didn't play real smart down the stretch in the first half," Teutopolis coach Andy Fehrenbacher said. "We thought, 'Let's regroup, refocus and come out strong in the second half.' "
Unity started the half with two baskets, but the Wooden Shoes answered with an 8-0 run to retake the lead. When Matt Restad tied the game at 37 with 3:45 to go in the third, Teutopolis answered with an 11-5 run to end the quarter.
Pruemer was difficult for Unity to contain in the second half. He scored 14 of his 19 points after halftime and consistently found space in the lane.
Wooden Shoes senior Mark Niebrugge helped create space for him by drawing defenders to the perimeter. He led all scorers with 24 points and earned high praise from Ipsen.
"If you can come off a dribble sideways and make a basket, well, there aren't many people who can do that. He's a special talent," Ipsen said of Niebrugge. He also complimented Teutopolis' physical style of play.
"I'm proud of the way we played. ... There's nothing to be ashamed of tonight. We're a great team; they're a great team. It was a battle," Ipsen said.