By Karen Price | Aug. 07, 2018, 11:49 p.m. (ET)
Sahvanna Jaquish #27 is celebrated by teammates Kasey Cooper #13 and Haylie McCleney #8 as she rounds the bases after a two-run home run against South Africa at the WBSC Women's Softball World Championship on Aug. 7, 2018 in Ichihara, Japan.

 

The U.S. softball team faced its biggest challenge yet at the WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship and responded with an 8-1, five-inning win over Puerto Rico on Wednesday in Ichihara, Japan.

Left-handed ace and former Tennessee standout Monica Abbott, a 2008 Olympic silver medalist, was nearly flawless on the mound, striking out 11 in five innings for the win (3-0, 0.60 ERA), and the Americans found power at the plate in the victory that earned them the top spot in the Group A standings. Next up is a playoff round matchup against the No. 2 team from Group B, which is currently Australia.

Both the U.S. and Puerto Rico came into the game undefeated at 6-0.

With a roster full of Division I players, including a half dozen who played in the Women’s College World Series this spring, Puerto Rico was ready to challenge the U.S. for first place in the standings.

For the first few innings, they did just that.

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After a scoreless first inning for both teams, Puerto Rico’s Karla Claudio homered to center field on the first at-bat of the second inning.

It was the first time the U.S. had trailed in the tournament. Coming into the game, only Mexico had managed to post any runs against the U.S. (two).

The score remained 1-0 until the bottom of the third when Haylie McCleney (Alabama ’16) led off with a double, then scored when Ali Aguilar (Washington ’17) singled to right field to tie it 1-1. Puerto Rico’s Meghan King replaced Aleshia Ocasio on the mound, but Sahvanna Jaquish (LSU ’17) hit a three-run home run before the inning was over to give the U.S. its first lead of the game, 4-1.

They expanded it in the bottom of the fourth and put the game out of reach for Puerto Rico when Aguilar hit a three-run home run to center field to make it 7-1. Michelle Moultrie (Florida ’12) added an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth to end it.

The win places Team USA directly into the medal round, which begins Friday. The winner of the world championship will claim the first spot at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.