Go here for a preview of the West York-Upper Moreland state title game.

As a graduate and former baseball player from West York High School -- Class of 1966 -- I was as pleased as anyone about the Bulldogs' run to a Class AAA state championship last season.

In fact, I was ecstatic. And proud.

But once that season was over, I figured that was it. I didn't think -- and I said so out loud a couple of times -- West York could compete for a second state title this year.

Yes, it did have some quality players returning this season, not the least of which were the Kinneman brothers -- Brett and Brandon -- Chase James, Brandon Rauhauser, Carson Fries, Cole Bixler and Brandon Wetzel, to name a few.

But the Bulldogs had graduated its four captains and the core of its championship team in 2012 -- starting pitcher Kaden Hepler, center fielder Jerrin Toomey, shortstop Brock Gladfelter and catcher Jesse Bortner.

And I figured those guys were going to be difficult to replace.

Especially Hepler.

Players of his caliber don't come around every year. Maybe once every 10 years, if you're lucky.

As all local baseball fans know, Hepler was one of the best pitchers, maybe even "the" best in Class AAA, in the state. In his senior year, he was a perfect 14-0 with 131 strikeouts and an amazing 0.70 earned-run average.

But this is the most important stat: The dominant right-hander started and won every game in West York's run through the state tournament. Not every other game -- EVERY game.

In the championship game, Hepler threw 149 pitches. And he was a darned good hitter, too.

Hepler once struck out 19 hitters in a game. He was selected first-team All-State twice and was the York-Adams League Division II Player of the Year twice.

He was clearly the straw that stirred the drink for West York baseball for three or four years.

But he was gone. The Bulldogs could no longer depend on him to pitch against the good teams or in all the big games starting in 2013.

So I didn't give West York much of a chance to repeat as state champions. In fact, I didn't give them much of a chance to play for a championship at any level.

I'm just being honest.

And clearly I was wrong.

On Friday, the Bulldogs, 20-8 on the season and winners of 11 of their last 12 games, will play Upper Moreland, the District 1 runner-up, for the state title at 1 p.m. at Penn State's Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

West York is peaking at just the right time it would seem. And the players are taking turns being heroes with late-inning hits or great defensive plays or stellar pitching performances when they need it most.

They've won four straight games in their last at-bats, including a 5-4 victory over Abington Heights on Tuesday in the Class AAA semifinal.

They have become a team with tremendous character. It doesn't seem to bother them too much if they're behind in a game because they're pluggers. They hustle. They play hard. And this season, they've learned they don't have to put all their eggs in one basket -- Kaden Hepler's basket -- to win.

There are no superstars on this team, but they are a team in every respect. There have even been instances this year, in the postseason, too, where guys have come off the bench to help win games as pinch-hitters, baserunners, pitchers or on defense.

If you're on West York's roster you have a chance to have an effect on a game.

And it's been a pleasure to watch.

It's been fun as this team developed from an also-ran in the York-Adams League standings, a team that had to depend on other teams winning to even earn its way into postseason action, a team without a star player or a star pitcher, a team with a 9-7 record after 16 games, to a team that had its heart set on returning to the state championship game.

And now it's there.

Win or lose, I suspect this trip has been just as special to this group of players as was the trip last year, when everyone seemed to think West York was a team of destiny.

One year they're pretty much expected to win, and they do. The next year, no one thinks they'll win, but they're right there at the end.

The chips will fall where they may Friday afternoon. Maybe West York will win; maybe it won't.

But the journey -- ahhh, how sweet it's been.

Sports columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Thurs days. E-mail: lhick s@yorkdispatch.com.