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Stacia Martinez is fouled on the shot by Cavegirl Rylan Gonsalez during the first half Tuesday at the Pit. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

Stacia Martinez is fouled on the shot by Cavegirl Rylan Gonsalez during the first half Tuesday at the Pit. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

When a young Class 5A squad takes on the top-ranked team in Class 6A, the name of the game is learning.

The Carlsbad Cavegirls held the advantage over the Lady Bulldogs Tuesday night at Bulldog Pit – as they do over most teams in the state – from the get-go: They’re bigger, they’re quicker, and they’re more experienced.

What the Lady ‘Dogs needed in order to stay in the mix was a stellar night from the field and to disrupt the Cavegirls’ tempo. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be, particularly in the first half, as Artesia dropped Round Two of the Eddy County War series, 56-20.

“I think folks can see why they’re the No. 1 team in 6A,” Lady Bulldog head coach Jeff Houghtaling said today. “It was a tough game.”

The Artesia girls came out with visible energy and succeeded in limiting Carlsbad to just seven points through the first four minutes of play. But the Cavegirls dashed off 10 more in the final moments of the first, and with the Lady ‘Dogs hitting just two field goals in the first half, Carlsbad’s 31-7 halftime advantage was essentially insurmountable.

That didn’t mean the Lady Bulldogs were throwing in the towel, however.

“We had a really tough first half, but we kind of challenged the girls at halftime,” Houghtaling said. “The second half was better. We came out, competed a little harder, went after a few more loose balls, boxed out and rebounded better, and doubled our scoring.

“We’re certainly not anywhere near where we’d like to be scoring wise, but we were more productive in the second half, so that’s a positive to build off of.”

Down 7-1 in the first prior to Carlsbad’s late run, the Lady Bulldogs got their first field goal of the night with 41 seconds to go in the opening quarter on a trey by Alissa Wagner.

That made it 17-4 going into the second, and although Artesia had a few good looks early, all of them came up short. And from there, the Lady ‘Dogs struggled mightily against Carlsbad’s full-court pressure, turning the ball over 12 times in the quarter.

Wagner again accounted for the team’s lone basket of the period, and Artesia went in at the break down 31-7 and shooting just 11 percent.

To their credit, they battled in the second half, improving their shooting percentage to 33 and taking better care of the ball. But on top 46-13 heading into the fourth, the girls in blue were able to set the mercy-rule clock in motion with four minutes to go in the fourth and keep it intermittently running from there as they closed out their 36-point win.

Wagner led the Lady Bulldogs with seven points on the night, while Kim Best posted 10 in the paint for the Cavegirls.

“We just looked at this game as an opportunity to get better and prepare for district,” said Houghtaling. “We’re going to go back and watch the film a little bit, try to learn from it, and do the best we can from here on out.

“We play them one more time, and it’s not going to be any easier the next time, but I do think playing that quality of an opponent is going to help us when we get into district.”

The Lady ‘Dogs (4-11) will now prepare for a Class 5A double header this weekend against Santa Teresa and Albuquerque Academy.

“The importance of wins is obviously a little heavier this weekend,” Houghtaling said. “Last night after the game, I feel like we all got on the same page, and we’re going to put all our energy, attention and effort into winning Friday night first and worrying about Saturday on Saturday.

“I certainly think we could pick up a couple of much-needed wins this weekend. Like I told the girls, victory would be the best medicine for us right now. All your mistakes are magnified when you’re losing.”

The Artesia girls will travel to Santa T. – whom they’ve defeated twice this season, 60-32 Dec. 1 and 44-33 Dec. 11 at the City of Champions Classic – for a 5:30 p.m. game Friday before returning to the Pit Saturday to host Academy at 3 p.m.

“The boys will be out of town Saturday, so it’ll be kind of a unique deal with the girls at home alone, so we’d like to encourage the fans to come out and watch us play,” said Houghtaling.