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Can Ashley baseball turn Mideastern Conference title into playoff success?

Three years ago, the Ashley High School baseball team figured things out.

The Screaming Eagles won the Mideastern Conference title and advanced to the NCHSAA 4A East Regional championship in 2021, where they narrowly fell to eventual state champion Fuquay-Varina.

Ashley has endured consecutive first-round playoff exits since. However, the tides seem to be changing as the team claimed the Mideastern Conference title in an emphatic 18-2 statement victory over Topsail last week.

"We knew we had to get that one," Ashley senior pitcher Cole Barnes said. "Every single day, we were grinding for it."

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The win couldn't have come without outfielder Dylan Welch. The senior recorded five RBIs and a triple, helping the Screaming Eagles score 13 runs in the game's final two innings.

"We jumped on them early and kept it going from there," Welch said. "We run every little thing we can at practice and we ran them in the game and that gave us the edge."

NC State commit Quinn Bentley has also impressed this spring as one of the area's most productive batters, hitting .542 and scoring 32 runs. Fellow juniors Drew Potter and Tanner Berry have combined for 31 RBIs on the season, giving Ashley a steady flow of experienced talent.

"Playing in (The MEC) helps us prepare for anything we're going to see," Ashley coach Ben Stroehl said. "Our conference is a dogfight every year, and seeing the quality pitching and games we have makes everybody better for the playoffs."

While the Screaming Eagles (20-3) would like nothing more than to replicate the success of the 2021 season, Stroehl knows the playoffs are a different ball game.

"Any given day, any team can put their ace on the mound, and that could be the end of your season," Strohel said of the playoffs. "(Our) guys haven't had a lot of experience in the postseason, but they've shown they can win big games."

Ashley's #22 Cole Barnes pitches the ball as Ashley took on Hoggard Tuesday March 19, 2024 at Ashley High School. Hoggard won 4-2 to remain unbeaten. KEN BLEVINS/STARNEWS
Ashley's #22 Cole Barnes pitches the ball as Ashley took on Hoggard Tuesday March 19, 2024 at Ashley High School. Hoggard won 4-2 to remain unbeaten. KEN BLEVINS/STARNEWS

The postseason might be a bear, but Ashley will get home field advantage as the team earned the No. 1 seed in the 4A East classification. Keeping games in Wilmington until the regional rounds, Ashley knows its potential this spring.

"It feels pretty good to say we're conference champions, but job's not finished," Barnes said.

The Screaming Eagles will host No. 32-seeded Pine Forest (Fayetteville) in Tuesday's 4A East state playoffs opening round. A win could see the team host New Hanover on Friday night.

"We're battle-tested, and that will help us in the playoffs," Stroehl said. "The team is on a roll right now, and I think they know it. It's just a matter of whether they can come out and compete every day."

This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: How does Ashley baseball fare in 2024 NCHSAA high baseball playoffs