By Todd Kortemeier | Aug. 03, 2018, 1:19 p.m. (ET)
Haylie McCleney celebrates after hitting a home run at the WBSC Women's Softball World Championship on Aug. 3, 2018 in Chiba, Japan.

 

The U.S. women’s softball team began its road to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Friday just around the bay in Chiba, Japan, and it did so with a 5-2 win over Mexico to open the WBSC Women’s World Championship.

Haylie McCleney blasted a two-run homer in the third inning and 2008 Olympic silver medalist Monica Abbott struck out 13 batters over six innings with just three hits allowed as Team USA began its title defense on a high note.

The U.S. built a 5-0 lead thanks to McCleney and Janie Reed, who laced a single to deep left that scored two in the sixth.

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Mexico rallied in the seventh, scoring two runs with two outs. But Kelly Barnhill came in to record a strikeout and lock up the win. 

Up next for the top-ranked Americans is Chinese Taipei at 2:30 a.m. EDT on Saturday.

The world championship consists of two eight-team, round-robin group stages, with the top four teams in each group advancing to a double Page playoff round and the bottom four competing in a placement round. The championship game is set for next Sunday.

In addition to the world title, the winner in Chiba will also clinch a berth in the 2020 Olympic Games, when softball will be contested for the first time since 2008. However, Japan has already qualified as host, so if Japan wins the world title then the second-place team will qualify for 2020.

Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.