Five years ago, the York High boys' basketball team represented the school in the state championship game for the first time in 60 years.

The 2008-09 team thrilled its fans with a run through the Class AAAA bracket. The Bearcats bowed to Penn Wood in the state final, but they made a lasting impact.

This year's team, following its unforgettable come-from-behind 54-52 victory in the District 3 championship game, is about to embark on what it hopes is a lengthy stay in the biggest tournament of the season.

The Bearcats may just be in the right spot to make a serious run.

York is in the bottom half of the 32-team bracket. There are four other district champions in that half (New Castle, Altoona, Taylor Allderdice and Erie McDowell), but the Bearcats wouldn't see any of those teams until the semifinals. Assuming, of course, York wins its first three games.

The Bearcats are clearly favored in their opening game against Haverford, the No. 10 seed from District 1 (suburban Philadelphia). The Fords are making their first state tournament appearance in more than four decades.

Longtime York High fans will remember Haverford as the team that defeated an unbeaten Bearcats' club in the 1958 state playoffs (there was just one class at the time). Haverford went on to win the state championship over Altoona.

That was then, though, and this is now.

York High, which features a starting lineup of three sophomores and two juniors, is playing its best ball of the season.

Along with Haverford, the Bearcats' part of the bracket includes Emmaus, Abington, Pennsbury, Wilson, Martin Luther King and Cumberland Valley.

Pennsbury placed second and Abington was fifth in perennially strong District 1 (think Chester and Lower Merion), and Martin Luther King finished second in District 12 (City of Philadelphia) behind another power, Roman Catholic.

York Catholic girls: While York High opens play on Saturday, the other District 3 champion from the York-Adams League, the York Catholic girls, begin their quest for a state title on Friday night. The Fighting Irish, who have won an unprecedented nine consecutive district crowns, take on Philadelphia Academy Charter in the opening round of states.

York Catholic, which has played in seven of the last eight state finals (winning in 2006, 2007 and 2008), is in the top half of the AA bracket.

That half also features unbeaten Neumann-Goretti (25-0), the No. 1-ranked AA team in the state according to PennLive.com, District 11 champion Minersville, District 1 champion St.Basil Academy, District 2 champion Dunmore and District 4 champion Mount Carmel.

Bishop Canevin, the 2013 champion, and Seton-LaSalle, the 2012 champion, are in the bottom half of the bracket.

— Dick VanOlinda covers high school sports for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at dvanolinda@yorkdispatch.com.