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Gracie Puentes stops and pops during the second quarter Saturday against Ruidoso. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

Gracie Puentes stops and pops during the second quarter Saturday against Ruidoso. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

The Lady Bulldog basketball team was never further than a step or two behind Ruidoso Saturday at Bulldog Pit. Unfortunately, that’s all it took for the Lady Warriors to eke out a four-point win.

Down by six at the half and four heading into the final quarter, the Artesia girls were able to pull within one of Ruidoso, 46-45, with just under three minutes remaining in the game. But missed shots and free throws in the final seconds added up for the Lady ‘Dogs, and the Warriors held on, 50-46.

“I felt like we had a pretty good game,” Artesia head coach Jeff Houghtaling said Saturday. “The girls did a good job of battling. We played hard, played well, did a good job of taking care of the ball and getting a lot of good shots, and just about everybody chipped in.”

Consecutive three-pointers by Alissa Wagner helped see Artesia to that one-point deficit in the fourth, but Uriah Hornedeagle would answer in kind seconds later to give Ruidoso a four-point cushion, 49-45.

Kyrah Gonzales hit the first end of a one-and-one to bring the Lady ‘Dogs back within a shot, but one from the stripe by Ruidoso’s Lia Mosher would turn out to be all the Lady Warriors needed, as Artesia missed two free throws late and their final attempts from the field.

The shootout from beyond the arc late in the fourth had perhaps been foretold by the opening minutes of the game. Wagner drained a pair of longballs and Alexa Riggs one to counter a single trey by Lady Warrior Korey King and give Artesia a 9-7 lead, all within the first 120 seconds of play.

King would strike again before period’s end, however, to help see Ruidoso to a 13-11 edge going into the second.

After getting an early jumper from Paityn Houghtaling, the Lady Bulldogs struggled to find the hoop and the Warriors capitalized, compiling a 23-14 lead with four minutes to go in the half. A bucket by Riggs and a Gonzales trey kept Artesia well within striking distance at the break, however, 26-20.

The third quarter was a low-scoring affair for both teams, but two buckets by Riggs, one from Gonzales, three from the stripe by Houghtaling, and a Laci Taylor trey brought the Lady ‘Dogs within four, 37-33.

The girls in orange were solid in the early goings of the final eight minutes, with Gracie Puentes, Wagner and Mia Oliver all going 2-2 from the line combined with Wagner’s three’s, but the Lady Warriors did enough to save the victory.

Ruidoso’s King led all scorers on the night with 18 points, followed by Wagner with 15. Riggs added nine for the Lady Bulldogs. The two teams combined for 13 three-pointers on the game, four of those coming from Wagner and five from King.

“We hit some perimeter jump shots tonight when we needed them, and that was rewarding to see,” Coach Houghtaling said. “We were also able to keep their big girl (6’1” Lia Mosher) under wraps. She’s been their leading scorer all season, and we held her to five. But their three-point shooters got hot for them, and that was the difference.

“We want to thank the crowd for the great support we had tonight. It was a fantastic crowd, the Homecoming festivities went really well, the boys played well, and it was just a great environment. What makes the Pit such a great place to play is when you have crowds like we had tonight.”

Saturday’s loss came on the heels of another rough outing Friday night in Carlsbad. In their last of three meetings with the Class 6A Cavegirls this season, the Lady Bulldogs fell 65-29. The two losses place their overall record at 5-14 going into district play.

But as everyone knows, all teams are 0-0 when it comes time for the games that count, and Houghtaling feels good about the way his athletes are competing. They’ll also have four days off to prepare for their District 4-AAAAA opener Friday versus Lovington at Bulldog Pit.

“I feel like we can be competitive in our district,” said the coach. “Lovington is just under .500, Goddard is around .500. We’re going to really focus in on Lovington starting Monday, really start trying to figure them out. We’ve got two or three game films we’re going to watch. We’re also really happy we get to start at home. We shot really well on our court tonight, and I think that confidence will carry over into the next game.

“Like we told the girls after the game, the season is starting over now. It all comes down to district every year. It’s nice to win in the pre-district, but when you get down to it, these are the games that are the most important.”