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How Ashley Miller’s transfer affects NU’s starting rotation

Replacing Danielle Williams is impossible, but the ‘Cats went out and got another ace for their rotation.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

After half-decade of continuity in Northwestern’s starting rotation, the ‘Cats will have major turnover before they take the field in 2024.

With Danielle Williams, Cami Henry and Sydney Supple all departing Evanston, NU was poised to commence its 2024 campaign with just Lauren Boyd and Lauren Curry on the roster. Boyd, who took a massive leap forward in her junior season, would be the leader of Michelle Gascoigne’s pitching staff; however, Curry has pitched less than three innings in her two years at Northwestern. As NU seeks to find its path in the post-Williams era, the Wildcats looked to the transfer portal this offseason and brought in a familiar Big Ten foe to bolster their rotation — former Michigan State Spartan Ashley Miller.

In her first two seasons in East Lansing, Miller was dominant. She posted back-to-back sub-two ERA seasons. She is a strikeout machine, recording 100 or more punch outs in each of her last two seasons, and she missed the triple-digit mark by one in her freshman campaign; however, in her last two years, her walk rate has increased. Miller allowed roughly 50 free passes in each of her final two seasons for the Spartans, a sizable shift from her 29 walks during her freshman year. While Northwestern’s pitchers have struggled to keep the ball in the ballpark, surrendering 51 home runs this past season, Miller has only seen 16 balls leave the yard her entire collegiate career, keeping the number of dingers she allows in the single digits for each season.

In her sophomore season, Miller was one of the top pitchers in the Big Ten. The newest Wildcat faced 815 batters and was lights out. In her 193 innings pitched, Miller struck out 244 hitters and only conceded 50 earned runs, with opponents hitting .208 against the right hander. In her 34 starts, Miller tossed 20 complete games, including five shutouts. Furthermore, she pitched the third perfect game in Michigan State history, blanking the Akron Zips on Feb. 13, 2022.

Despite a poor performance in her junior season, with Miller posting a 4.22 ERA, the worst of her career and more than double her prior two seasons, NU gains an ace caliber player in the former Spartan. Miller has shown she can be a phenomenal pitcher against Big Ten competition, which Northwestern will need to repeat as champions. With Miller, a predominantly strikeout pitcher, NU has a solid one-two punch with her and Boyd. To optimize Miller’s talent, Gascoigne will need to figure out what went wrong for the former Spartan last season, especially what led to Miller’s higher walk rate.

However, if the newest Wildcat can get back to the version of herself in her first two seasons of college softball, Northwestern may have hit the jackpot in the transfer portal. No single move could ever replace the production of Danielle Williams, who is one of, if not the best, pitcher in Wildcats’ history, but the addition of Miller helps fill the biggest void on the Wildcats’ roster. With Nebraska adding WCWS MVP Jordy Bahl from Oklahoma, Northwestern faces an uphill battle to claim back-to-back Big Ten titles. However, by adding another ace to its pitching staff, NU makes itself a threat to sit atop the conference once again.