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ROUNDTABLE: How far will Northwestern Softball go in the NCAA Tournament?

Light. Up. The. J.

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Northwestern Softball is dancing yet again, and the Inside NU staff has carefully contemplated how it will fare in the NCAA Tournament. Here are our predictions for the upcoming weekend and beyond:

Sarah Effress: Loss in the Super Regional

This is a less optimistic prediction than I usually would write based on an abundance of caution because I simply don’t want to jinx anything. But realistically, without pitching depth behind Danielle Williams, it’s tough to see NU’s high-powered offense being able to carry itself through to the WCWS. Arizona State is a good team, and making it through the Regional to play in Tempe on ASU’s home turf is not ideal. Being able to fight through non-conference teams of ASU’s caliber will be the difference maker — I think if they can get through the Super Regional, though, the sky is the limit.

Ben Chasen: Loss in WCWS ahead of national title series

As die-hards of the program know, this season has been the culmination of several years’ worth of roster growth for NU. Bolstered by a set of senior and fifth-year stars, the Wildcats will lean on their experience (and on the trusty arm of Danielle Williams) to get back to OKC for the first time since 2007. The Evanston Regional will come down to the team’s ability to down Notre Dame on consecutive days, which I expect it will so long as Williams is available and rested. From there, the Wildcats will either take on an Arizona State squad that, while tough, has struggled on occasion against top-end pitching, or whichever team can succeed in handing them a second loss in Tempe this weekend. I think that, regardless of the opponent, the ‘Cats’ Super Regional series will go three games and Kate Drohan’s team will emerge victorious before bowing out to the likes of Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and Florida State in the Softball Capital of the World.

Jacob Brown: Loss in the regional final (if Lauren Boyd is still hurt) or Arizona State in the Super Regional

If Lauren Boyd is still out for the regional, Northwestern will have a tough time. Throughout the season there have been spots where Danielle Williams’ command has wavered, and this is likely due to fatigue. Without Boyd, the Drohan sisters will likely have to lean heavily on Williams in the regional. As we saw in the Big Ten Tournament, when combined with the slumping offense, one missed pitch from Williams can make or break this team. Without Boyd to take innings, Williams is likely to be used heavily. Ultimately, I think this scenario would lead to a tired Williams being unable to dominate Notre Dame on Sunday. However, if Boyd can return, even just briefly, it will take a heavy amount of pressure off of Williams, and Northwestern’s ace will likely be able to get the job done Sunday. The Tempe region is stacked, including two teams that Northwestern lost to in the regular season. Whoever wins that region will be GOOD, and although NU will certainly put up a fight, I like the Sun Devils to win at home.

Bradley Locker: Loss in the Super Regional

Playing at home in front of a packed J, I’m confident in the Wildcats to emerge from their Regional by ousting Notre Dame, McNeese and Oakland. However, a second-round matchup with No. 8 Arizona State in Tempe is quite daunting. Having made the NCAA Tournament the last five years it has been conducted, ASU is a powerhouse looking to bring home its first title since 2011. The Sun Devils have sure looked the part so far, going 39-9 and winning their first PAC-12 crown in 11 years. With pitchers Lindsay Lopez, Marissa Schuld and Mac Morgan all posting sub-2.70 ERAs, Arizona State has a legitimate pitching trinity, something that the Drohans would struggle to counter by having only one real ace in Danielle Williams. Even though NU has a potent offense, ASU is ninth in the country in runs per game and fourth in slugging, and the ‘Cats’ O has been slumping a bit as of late.

Ignacio Dowling: Loss to Arizona State in Super Regional

Make no mistake about it, the Evanston Regional looks difficult for Northwestern. Notre Dame has already beaten the ‘Cats this season and matches NU in almost every team statistical category. So their matchup will likely be a near-coin flip, but the Northwestern pitching rotation’s top-end firepower should be decisive. Unfortunately, that may not be the case against Arizona State, assuming ASU can win its regional. With all the quality wins the Wildcats have racked up, the Sun Devils have even more. A 9-3 record against top-25 teams and a 19-4 record in the hyper-competitive Pac-12 is tough to bet against, and I’m not going to do that.

Gavin Dorsey: Loss in WCWS ahead of national title series

I feel good about these ‘Cats. Despite some late-season faltering, including a 2-1 loss against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal, Northwestern is still the same team that took down UCLA and seven other ranked opponents and should look to continue its exceptional season in the NCAA Tournament. Not only do I propose that the ‘Cats sweep their region, but they’ll also take down Arizona State in Tempe en route to the program’s first Women’s College World Series appearance since 2007. The bats may be cold recently, but the shortcomings in the conference tournament and the last hurrah of Northwestern’s seniors will propel the Wildcats into the WCWS.