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Mexico sealed today its qualification to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, with a 2-1 victory over Canada, in front of a fully packed Softball City stadium. Dallas Escobedo went the distance, allowing only 3 hits with 9 strikeouts. Mexico joins Japan, USA and Italy as the fourth qualified nation to the six-team softball competition in Tokyo. It will be the first Olympic participation ever for the Mexican Softball National Team.
Mexico clinched today one of their most important wins in history. With a brilliant Escobedo and two runs in the fifth episode, Mexico earned its ticket to Tokyo 2020.
It was the most expected game in the tournament, with the two undefeated teams facing each other and two of the best pitchers in the world: Escobedo for Mexico and Sara Groenewegen for the host team.
Both pitchers retired the side in the first inning, but Holly Speers led off the top of the second with a single to the right side of the field, with the first hit of the game for Canada. Speers advanced on a soft grounder by Jenn Salling to third base, but then Escobedo fanned Kaleigh Rafter with a high rise ball, and finally Larissa Franklin hit a high chopper down the first baseline, for an easy third out.
In the third episode Canada put the first hitter on base again, Emma Etminzger was hit by a pitch, and Janet Leung sacrificed to put again a runner in scoring position with one out. But this time Victoria Hayward drove in the first run of the game with a line-drive double to center field, to give the host team a 1-0 lead.
Groenewegen started very strong, retiring the first eight hitters she faced, but in the bottom of the third Tatyana Forbes slapped a hard ball to third base for an infield hit, and two pitches later the Mexican left fielder advanced to second base on a wild pitch, however Nicole Mendes bunted to Groenewegen’s hand for the third out.
After a perfect fourth inning for Groenewegen, Mexico came from behind and took the lead in the fifth. Sashel Palacios led off the inning with a single, Brittany Cervantes hit a grounder to shortstop that Leung couldn’t grab and Chelsea Gonzalez drew a walk to load the bases, with no out. Head Coach Mark Smith replaced Groenewegen with Jenna Caira, but the veteran right-hander walked Suzannah Gonzalez to plate the tying run, and one out later Mendez hit an RBI single to left field to give Mexico the definitive 2-1 lead. Smith changed the pitcher again, sending Danielle Lawrie to the circle, and the veteran struck out Amanda Sanchez and Vidales (the last one with a change-up in the outside corner of the plate) to finish the inning.
In the top of the sixth Kelsey Jenkins lined a double to left-center field to open the inning, but Jennifer Gilbert failed to bunt, with a fly to third base for the first out, and Escobedo struck out Speers with an outside pitch for the second out. Then Head Coach Carlos Bernaldez intentionally walked Salling, to face Rafter, and the decision worked out with the Canadian catcher flying out to right field in foul zone.
In the top of the seventh Escobedo retired the side with a grounder and a pair of consecutive strikeouts, to clinch the qualification to Tokyo.
“The plan today was the same as the previous days: one game at a time, it was only one more game. I just tried to stay calm, enjoy the moment, enjoy the crowd and being myself”, said Escobedo about her mental approach for this game.
How do you feel now that you’re achieved this goal? “A little bit relaxed, less stress now. It’s just exciting been here and living this moment”.
Head Coach Carlos Bernaldez said: “We worked hard for this. A lot of people thought that today we were coming today just to play, thinking on clinching our ticket tomorrow against Cuba. But our plan was coming today to beat the host team, the favourite, Canada, and most importantly clinch the ticket to the Olympics. Now we’ll take some rest, spend some time with the family because we have been abroad for a long time, and then back to work thinking in Tokyo”.
Mexico is the fourth qualified team for the Olympic softball competition, joining Japan (host team), USA (World Champion) and Italy (winner of the Europe/Africa Qualifier) in Tokyo 2020. Tomorrow, Sunday 1 September, we’ll know the fifth qualified team. Canada will take on Brazil at 3:30 p.m. local time, and the winner will advance to the Olympic Games. The last Olympic spot will be the winner of the WBSC Asia/Oceania Qualifier, to be held in Shanghai, China, from 24-28 September.