TUSCOLA — Last year, Alex Thorson helped St. Thomas More win a regional championship in boys' basketball. Friday night, he played a large role in why the Sabers were unable to repeat their Class 2A feat.
Thorson, who transferred to Unity for his senior season, scored a game-high 19 points — including three successive first-half three-pointers — as the top-seeded Rockets upended St. Thomas More 57-47 at Tuscola High School.
"He played for me as a freshman at St. Thomas More," Sabers first-year varsity head coach James Kinney said. "He once told me his dream was to play college ball. It looks like he's on his way after tonight.
"Alex is a great kid, and he did a great job."
Thorson's points came at key junctures. His first trey broke a 7-7 deadlock. His last three-pointer created a 22-22 tie midway through the second quarter.
"This means way more than last year," Thorson said, reflecting on his back-to-back regional championships.
"They said whoever was the toughest team would win. We proved we're the toughest."
In addition to scoring 10 second-half points, Thorson also directed an offense that committed three turnovers after the halftime break.
Unity coach Bill Ipsen, whose squad is 24-3 with wins in 23 of its last 24 games, said it was a solid overall performance by his point guard.
"He did a nice job attacking when he needed to," Ipsen said.
Aaron Larson had two double-figure halves for the Rockets. He scored 14 of his 17 points before the break and grabbed 10 of his game-high 14 rebounds during the final two quarters.
"After listening to them last year, it feels good to beat them," said the 6-foot-7 Larson, who tallied 12 of Unity's first 19 points.
"In the first half, Larson did his own thing," Kinney said. "We made adjustments (at halftime) and, defensively, we did a decent job."
The Sabers' double-teaming tactics kept Larson scoreless the first 12:44 of the second half.
"We tried and tried to get the ball to Aaron but couldn't," Ipsen said.
Larson said Thorson's play alleviated any pressure on him to score.
"He has been shooting exceptionally and playing unbelievably well," Larson said.
The Sabers (18-10) took their first lead, 16-15, on two free throws by Michael Rubenaker 51 seconds into the second period. St. Thomas More went scoreless the final 5:05 of the half and trailed by six at intermission (28-22).
Jaycee Hillsman, held to four first-half points, hit back-to-back three-pointers in the third quarter and the Sabers ultimately pulled into a tie, 43-43, on Rubenaker's third trey with 5:11 left in the final period.
"We played defense when we had to," Ipsen said. "When we needed stops, we got them."
Rubenaker's basket was the last scored for the Sabers for nearly three minutes, and St. Thomas More was unable to catch up again.
"Turnovers hurt us," said Kinney, whose team had 17. "We've had games with a few turnovers and games with a lot. Tonight we had too many, and that hurt our chances."
Rubenaker led the Sabers with 13 points. Hillsman hit 12 before fouling out.
Kevin Carroll grabbed nine rebounds.
Taylor Black and Matt Restad — a junior who also transferred from St. Thomas More to Unity this season — scored seven points apiece.
Unity's regional championship is the 12th for the school in the past 16 years.
Ipsen said there were never any issues with the transfers being accepted as part of the Rockets' team.
"They all like each other," he said. "That's what you really need to win games."