JOPLIN — The Neosho Wildcats earned their third consecutive Joplin Invitational title by winning a pair of matches decided on penalty kicks Saturday.

In the final match of the tournament, Neosho and Joplin played to a scoreless tie after 80 minutes of regulation. Then, in penalty kicks, Neosho’s Hank Selig made three saves and then Braydon Johnson and Hunter Gilliam netted consecutive kicks past Joplin goalkeeper Garrett Nimmo for the decisive 3-1 edge in penalty kicks and a 1-0 win.

Neosho defeated Carl Junction earlier Saturday on penalty kicks.

“Three in a row,” Neosho head coach Steve Schnackenberg said before his shower from a cooler full of cold, cold water. “It’s very special for us. The seniors and the leaders of this team really stepped up and took control of this team. I think it was all about the team today and I think that had a lot to do with it.

“Win two games on PKs today. It was exciting. I’m trying to stay away from this water. … Nah, I just appreciate two great games. Joplin played great, Carl came and played great against us, and it was great that we stepped up and took care of business.”

Thankfully, for reporters holding a tape recorder and a camera worth more than the reporter himself, the Neosho players waited to shower Schnackenberg after the interview and far, far away on the other side of the field.

Keep in mind that this was a Joplin team that Neosho lost 3-1 to in the season opener at Lions Field.

The Wildcats, who have picked it up in the second half of the season, however, improved to 8-9 on the season and have won seven of their last eight matches after winning the Joplin Invitational and finishing second last weekend in the Willard Classic.

Neosho earned wins this season over all three teams in the Wildcats’ district — Carl Junction, McDonald County, and Webb City, no doubt giving the Wildcats the right to the top seed for the upcoming district tournament. Neosho has been awarded the right to host the district tournament.