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ROUNDTABLE: Softball NCAA Tournament Predictions

Can the ‘Cats return to the WCWS?

Northwestern Athletics

The road to OKC begins today. As Northwestern tries to return to the Women’s College World Series once again, our staff gave some predictions on how far the ‘Cats will go and why.

Iggy Dowling: Loss in WCWS before title series

Assuming Northwestern and Alabama make it out of their regions and the two teams battle in Tuscaloosa, a ticket to Oklahoma City will hinge on whether the Crimson Tide can catch NU’s pitching staff on two bad days. I would’ve been less optimistic about Northwestern’s chances there a week ago, but Danielle Williams and Lauren Boyd’s dominance in the Big Ten Tournament indicates they’re heating up at the right time. Bama’s pitching should be good assuming Montana Fouts is healthy, but I don’t think it’ll be enough to hold down a Northwestern offense that can erupt at almost any point in the order.

That being said, Oklahoma is all but certain to make the title series, and it’s on the same side of the bracket as Kate Drohan’s team. The ‘Cats are great, but going undefeated against teams other than the Sooners to climb into the final would take a legendary streak of performances.

Bradley Locker: Loss in Super Regional to Alabama

I’m not too worried about Northwestern’s ability to defend home court from Sharon J. Drysdale Field in the Evanston Regional. The Wildcats are still perfect at home, and though Eastern Illinois, Kentucky and Miami (Ohio) have talent, I’ll bank on the squad that has lost just one game since April 23.

Because of (questionable) seeding, NU would likely venture to Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama in the Super Regional. The Crimson Tide have been somewhat shaky in conference play, going only 14-10, but are 21-8 at home. RPI does give Northwestern (No. 6) an edge over ‘Bama (No. 12), but the Crimson Tide have seven regular contributors with an OPS above .700, not to mention all four pitchers with ERAs under 2.83. Additionally, the Tide lost at home in last year’s Tuscaloosa Super Regional, falling to Stanford twice; this feels like a chance for revenge for a veteran bunch. This Northwestern team is more than capable of advancing to its second straight Women’s College World Series, but the ‘Cats would need Lauren Boyd and Cami Henry — who’s been shaky as of late — to assist Danielle Williams. Then again, I predicted Northwestern to lose to Arizona State in last year’s Super Regional, so maybe this is a reverse jinx of sorts.

Gavin Dorsey: Loss in Super Regional to Alabama

The Wildcats did a great job this year of keeping the pitch count down on Danielle Williams — something that contributed to an early exit at the 2022 Women’s College World Series. That should give Northwestern a way better shot at advancing this time around, but unfortunately for the ‘Cats, they will likely have to go through Tuscaloosa and a Montana Fouts who is apparently on track to return soon.

I trust the dynamic duo of Williams and Lauren Boyd to dominate in the circle, but can the bats keep up? NU has had plenty of explosions at the plate, but also numerous duds against top teams. They’ll need to be more consistent if they want to get past the Crimson Tide.

David Gold: Loss in WCWS before championship series

You can pencil the ‘Cats in to advance out of the Evanston regional this weekend. Northwestern is undefeated at home this season, the first time ever under Kate Drohan, and show no signs of stopping. Its region of Eastern Illinois, Kentucky and Miami (Ohio) does not spark fear; in fact, the only team that is a viable threat to NU is Kentucky, and the ‘Cats dismantled UK 9-3 earlier this season. I expect by the time Offset takes the stage tomorrow, the Wildcats are heading to the Super Regionals.

Now this is where I have a problem with the selection committee because Northwestern should not have to travel for the Super Regionals. The ‘Cats were deserving of a top eight seed in the tournament and got absolutely hosed. NU’s RPI was sixth in the nation; comparatively, Alabama’s was 12th, so explain to me how the Crimson Tide were deserving of the fifth seed. Alabama has great pitching, specially Montana Fouts, but I firmly believe that Danielle Williams and Lauren Boyd can match Alabama’s staff. I believe Northwestern’s offense will do just enough to squeak by and get the ‘Cats back to OKC for the second year in a row.

However, the fairytale run ends just short once again at the hands of powerhouse Oklahoma. Although the Wildcats fell just short to Oklahoma, 2-1, earlier this season, I don’t think the ‘Cats will be able to knock off the 51-1 Sooner’s squad.

Ben Chasen: Loss in WCWS championship series

This Northwestern team has everything it needs to make it back to the Women’s College World Series and go a step further than last year’s squad did. The bats are there, with lineup mainstays Skyler Shellmyer, Jordyn Rudd, and Angela Zedak leading the way, newcomer Kansas Robinson providing a burst of power, and previously-slumping Maeve Nelson seemingly hitting her stride at just the right time. The pitching is there, with the trusty arm of Danielle Williams now backed up by one of the nation’s strongest number-two options in Lauren Boyd and further buttressed by transfer Cami Henry. And the winning experience is there, with much of last year’s Super Regional-winning roster still in tact and Kate Drohan still at the helm.

May is mayhem, of course, so anything could happen. The same Kentucky team that knocked the ‘Cats out of the tournament two years ago is in the Evanston Regional field, and, should they advance out of the first weekend of tournament competition, they’d likely face an Alabama program that, while overseeded, has accrued so many miles traveling to and from OKC in the last decade that it could book free round-trip airfare to Europe. But if NU plays to its potential, I would expect the purple and white to be competing under the lights in OKC when the final pitch of the NCAA season is thrown.

Ethan Segall: Loss in WCWS before championship series

I like the ‘Cats to take care of business in the Evanston regional. Danielle Williams has been playing some of her best ball as of late and I forecast Northwestern being able to make it out of the field of four and advance to next weekend. Alabama is the prohibitive favorite to be Northwestern’s opponent in the super regional, but if Montana Fouts is a no-go, don’t be surprised to see the Crimson Tide upset in the Tuscaloosa regional. Regardless of who the opponent is, I’m taking the ‘Cats in the best-of-three series to advance to the WCWS.

From there, I’ll take Northwestern to improve upon last year and pick up at least one victory. Last year, the Wildcats were sent home after consecutive losses to powerhouses Oklahoma and UCLA. There’s a real chance that Northwestern could have to face one of those teams again. I think Northwestern ultimately comes up short of a national title, but has an exciting run and appropriate last hurrah for a roster filled with veteran players.

Patrick Winograd: Loss in Super Regionals to Alabama

I am extremely confident in Northwestern’s ability to get through the Evanston regional. Northwestern has more than enough firepower offensively, and with Danielle Williams anchoring the pitching staff, I don’t see any teams in the Evanston regional ending the Wildcats’ run that early, especially with home-field advantage. However, I think Kentucky’s SEC counterpart, Alabama, will be too much for Northwestern to handle.

Alabama is a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament, and also has two WCWS appearances in the last three tournaments. While the Crimson Tide have not been nearly as dominant as they were in 2019 and 2021 when they made the WCWS, this roster is still talented enough to make a run. Northwestern will be able to keep the series close, but I think Alabama will edge out the ‘Cats, preventing Northwestern from making back-to-back WCWS appearances.