Christian Pekarek was the sixth man as a freshman when the Upsala boys basketball team earned its first trip to state two seasons ago.
Friday night, he helped assure the Cardinals of a return trip. Pekarek finished with 26 points and six rebounds as Upsala rolled past Barnum 76-56 in the Section 5A championship game at Crosby-Ironton High School.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Pekarek, one of three current Cardinals players who saw significant playing time two years ago when Upsala lost to eventual state champion Springfield in the first round.
“I can’t even describe what this is like. It’s so good to be going back.”
Avery Smieja added 14 points and 17 rebounds for the Cardinals (30-0), who begin state play Thursday at Williams Arena. Seeding will be announced today. Upsala — ranked No. 3 in the state in Class A — is a good bet to get one of the top four seeds.
“We did a good job shutting down Barnum’s scorers and we forced the tempo to be more our style,” Cardinals coach Vern Capelle said.
Upsala led just 30-24 at halftime, but pulled away in the second half.
“I had to sit Christian five to six minutes in the first half because he had two fouls,” Capelle said. “Getting him back to start the second half made a big difference.”
Garrett Wolf added 11 points and seven rebounds.
“I think our experience will play a big role this time around,” Pekarek said. “We’ll have a better idea of what to expect this time.”