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Gracie Puentes goes up strong against Belen’s Brittany Saiz during the first half Friday at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

Gracie Puentes goes up strong against Belen’s Brittany Saiz during the first half Friday at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

For three quarters Saturday afternoon at Bulldog Pit, the Lady Bulldogs held their own against one of the top teams in the state.

Ranked sixth on NMPreps’ combined-classification Top 25 power poll, the Lady Hilltoppers of Los Alamos were quick, effective on the boards, and physical to put it mildly. But the girls in orange fought through the chippiness to hold a one-point lead at the half, 32-31.

Then came the third quarter.

The Lady ‘Dogs committed a costly 11 turnovers in the penultimate eight minutes of the game that quickly helped Los Alamos compile a double-digit lead, 46-34, with around three minutes to go in the period.

Having scored just a single bucket – courtesy of Paityn Houghtaling off an inbound pass play – to that point, Artesia came on strong in the final minutes, with Gracie Tesillo driving hard to the hoop for three baskets, and Stacia Martinez and Gracie Puentes tacking on one apiece.

The effort brought the Lady Bulldogs back within a very manageable seven going into the fourth, 51-44.

The ‘Toppers opened the quarter with three unanswered, but a Tesillo trey and a stop-and-pop by the junior, along with a layup in transition by Alexa Riggs, trimmed the deficit to five, 56-51, with 5:33 remaining.

Alissa Wagner fouled out 12 seconds later, and LA’s Makaela Jones completed the three-point play to make it 59-51. After that, one of many sketchy calls on the day let a Hilltopper defender get by with knocking the basketball out of the hands of Houghtaling as she stood out of bounds looking to throw it in. The loose ball was pounced upon by both teams, and Artesia was called for travelling. As a result, Los Alamos logged a free basket to go back up by 10.

Both ends of a one-and-one by Kyrah Gonzales, one of two from the stripe by Houghtaling, and a Puentes layup once again pulled the Lady ‘Dogs within striking distance, 61-56. But Ashley Logan delivered a pair of wide-open layups off the press breaker to give the ‘Toppers some breathing room, and the majority of the remainder played out from the line.

There, the Lady Bulldogs went 4-8 and LA 6-8 en route to the 71-62 final.

The loss made the weekend a split for the girls in orange, who defeated Belen 57-43 Friday. Through two quarters against Los Alamos, it looked as though they were headed for a sweep.

The Lady ‘Dogs fought the Hilltoppers shot for shot in the opening period Saturday, with Riggs draining one from behind the arc to give Artesia its first lead, 5-4, and Tesillo and Mia Oliver picking up jumpers in the paint. Houghtaling grew weary of being knocked around – and called for fouls – late in the quarter, logging a pair of strong shots under the basket to limit Los Alamos’ lead to one, 16-15, going into the second.

Following an early basket by the Lady ‘Toppers, Oliver hit from downtown to tie the game, and Tesillo and Martinez ended a 6-0 run by LA with a pair from the line and a shot in the paint respectively.

With Los Alamos up 26-22, Tesillo swatted a Sophia Roybal shot and was fouled scrambling for the rebound, sinking another two from the stripe. An old-fashioned three-point play by Tesillo, a strong drive to the hoop by Oliver, and a Houghtaling bucket off the inbound pass all then combined to give the Lady ‘Dogs the edge at intermission.

Tesillo finished with 20 points for the Lady Bulldogs, followed by Houghtaling with 10. Salazar led all scorers with 23.

The Lady ‘Dogs will now head into an eight-day break in preparation for their final outing of 2015 – the Alamogordo Holiday Tournament Dec. 28-30. Artesia is slated to open at 1 p.m. Dec. 28 against South Mountain. Also competing will be host Alamo, Atrisco Heritage, Casa Grande, El Paso Austin, Chaparral and Roswell High.

Friday, Dec. 18

Artesia . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
Belen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .43

The Lady Bulldogs were lights out from beyond the arc and just as effective in the paint Friday, building an insurmountable gap between themselves and visiting Belen with a 23-point third quarter en route to a 57-43 victory at Bulldog Pit.

After giving up a game-opening three-pointer to Lady Eagle Sam Valdez – who herself posted five treys on the evening – the Lady ‘Dogs roared back with 16 unanswered.

Shyann Spence got the onslaught started with an offensive putback, Paityn Houghtaling notched a trio of layups inside, and Alissa Wagner drained a three to make it 14-3 Artesia. A Gracie Puentes shot off the offensive boards would cap off the Lady ‘Dogs’ scoring in the quarter, while Valdez’s second longball of the quarter pulled the Eagles within eight, 16-8, going into the second.

Valdez opened the period the same way she ended the last, but Laci Taylor would answer in kind to kick off a 12-2 Artesia run. Gracie Tesillo accounted for seven of those points, and Houghtaling put one off the glass on the inbound pass to push the Lady Bulldogs’ advantage to 15, 28-13.

Belen closed out the quarter with seven straight, however, to once again trail by eight at the break, 28-20.

But the third period would belong to the Lady Bulldogs’ shooting guards.

After the Lady Eagles trimmed the gap to five, 30-25, Wagner proceeded to reel off back-to-back treys, and Artesia would three more from Kyrah Gonzales, Elisa Cardenas and Tesillo respectively. With Puentes adding four more points in the paint and Stacia Martinez two, the Lady ‘Dogs bested Belen 23-8 in the quarter to carry a 51-28 lead into the fourth.

There, the Eagles would limit Artesia to six points while posting 15 of their own, taking advantage of six Lady Bulldog turnovers in a game that had seen the girls in orange commit just nine to that point. But there was no undoing the damage of the previous quarter.

Tesillo led the Lady ‘Dogs on the night with 16 points, followed by Wagner with 11, Houghtaling with eight, and Puentes with seven. Valdez topped all scorers in the contest with 18.