Joplin posts 4-1 record in tough Neal/Freeman softball tourney

·3 min read

Sep. 3—New year, same caliber of competition.

The 18th annual Joplin High School Paige Neal/Christina Freeman Softball Tournament did not waver in that department in 2022.

The two-day tourney, which concluded on Saturday at Joplin Athletic Complex, featured Kansas City based squads Blue Springs, Staley and Park Hill South, and Kickapoo and Broken Arrow (Okla.) were all back for the second straight year.

There was significant local flavor with Joplin, Webb City, Carthage, Neosho, Seneca, Monett and Nevada rounding out the 12-team field.

"Ever since I've started here, I have really enjoyed this tournament," said first-year Joplin head coach Brenden Schneider, who previously worked as an assistant for four years with JHS's softball team. "It's a great test for us. We start playing against district opponents on Tuesday, which is fantastic. This is a really nice measuring stick for us.

"We got our feet wet at Aurora and then you come here and you know you'll face good competition. Broken Arrow and Staley are fantastic programs. They are well-coached and they play hard. We look forward to this tournament every year."

After going 3-0 in pool play on Friday, Blue Springs repeated as tournament champions with victories over Broken Arrow (9-3) and Kickapoo (11-3) on Saturday in the Gold Bracket.

Joplin was the highest local finisher. The Eagles posted a 4-1 overall mark, notching wins over Seneca (7-6), Staley (8-7), Neosho (15-8) and Nevada (12-8) with their lone loss to Broken Arrow (5-1) in pool play.

"We are hitting the ball incredibly well right now," Schneider said. "But sometimes you get those intangible things like grit and toughness. Being down six runs (7-1) going into the bottom of the sixth against Staley on (Friday) and coming back, we carried that over (to Saturday) and we scored six in the first (against Neosho). That's just awesome. I'm impressed with our ability to grind through things. Those games could have easily gone the other way. They were hitting the ball too, but we kept putting them up and putting them up."

Neosho, led by coach Catie Cummins, finished with wins over Monett (14-0), Carthage (9-4) and Nevada (11-3). The Wildcats suffered setbacks to Blue Springs (6-0) and Joplin.

Neosho is 4-2 to start the fall campaign after beating Commerce (Okla.) 10-3 on Aug. 26 in its season opener. Cummins looks for improvements from her Wildcats looking ahead.

"We've got to fight back when we get punched in the mouth," Cummins said. "Right now, we are just laying down. We just have to be a little tougher. We are going to be alright. I think we are going to have a great season. But right now, we are just one week in. We will get better."

As for Carthage, the Tigers went 1-4 with their lone victory over Monett (8-3). Carthage fell to Neosho, Blue Springs (4-3), Staley (3-2) and Park Hill South (9-8).

Webb City, featuring a new-look team, went winless during pool play. However, the Cardinals bounced back with a 7-5 victory over Monett and 12-5 win over Seneca in the Consolation Bracket.

With a standout showing, Schneider is bullish about the direction his Eagles are heading in the early part of the season.

Joplin is off to an impressive 10-2 start. The Eagles open up Central Ozark Conference play on Tuesday afternoon with Carthage at home.

"We are in a good spot, but we can still do things better," Schneider said. "We can always clean it up and find ways to improve. If we can continue to find ways to limit errors in games, which we've done the past two, I think that really makes us dangerous."