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The Runnin’ ‘Dogs had a rough first road trip Friday and Saturday up north, falling to Valencia and Santa Fe Capital by respective scores of 57-41 and 63-33.

But while the losses were disappointing for the boys in orange, whose record now stands even at 3-3, they were quality tests for a squad still in the process of gelling that will unquestionably serve the Bulldogs well in the weeks ahead.

“We still have to remember we’ve only been together two weeks as a team,” head coach Michael Mondragon said Saturday from the road. “We just have to continue to fight through this rough patch we have going on right now and keep getting better.

“If we keep working hard, we’re going to be where we need to be come district time.”

The ‘Dogs came out sluggish Friday against Valencia, managing just five points in the first quarter. From there, it was a game of catch-up Artesia unfortunately could not win despite a rally in the second half.

“I think what really hurt us Friday is that we just didn’t come out ready to play,” Mondragon said. “You can’t spot a team 18-2 with a score of 18-5 in the first. We had a long road trip, and we just didn’t take care of business.

“I was really pleased, though, with the way the guys came out and fought in the second half. We continued to get better, and we had it down to eight at one point. But it’s just a process, and it takes time.”

Saturday found the Bulldogs squaring off against a stacked Capital squad that stood at 8-1 on the year going into the bout, their lone loss coming Dec. 1 in their second game against Rio Grande, 61-56.

Again the ‘Dogs battled but were hindered by turnovers and mental errors in the 30-point loss.

“Capital is just a really, really good basketball team, and you can’t turn the ball over like we did and make silly mistakes and expect to play with a team like that,” said Mondragon. “I think we gave them anywhere from 16 to 20 points on breakaway layups off turnovers, and our guys know: You can’t defend turnovers.

“I really liked our defense as far as the half-court was concerned, and I think we played a lot harder tonight than we did yesterday. But overall, we just have to do a better job of taking care of the ball and executing.”

The Bulldogs will now have a much-needed break to regroup and continue building team chemistry prior to the annual Sunrise Optimist Poe Corn Invitational Dec. 28-30 in Roswell.

The ‘Dogs are set to take on Farmington in the first round at 6 p.m. Dec. 28 at Roswell High. The quality 5A bracket also includes Roswell and Goddard, Los Alamos, Belen, Piedra Vista and Moriarty.

“A lot of what went on this weekend was just the frustration you have with a lack of practice time,” Mondragon said. “This week has been more about getting our legs back under us. Now we’ve got a little break, and it’s going to be good for us. When you think about it, these football guys haven’t had a break since June.

“We’re looking to put together some good practices and get ready for Farmington, who’s going to be a very good 5A basketball team. We just have to keep fighting and keep getting better, work on all those little things like taking care of the ball, defending, rebounding, and the success will come as long as we’re working hard.”