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Justin Houghtaling puts up a shot over the Hobbs defense during the first quarter Saturday at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

Justin Houghtaling puts up a shot over the Hobbs defense during the first quarter Saturday at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

In the first quarter Saturday against Hobbs at Bulldog Pit, the Runnin’ ‘Dog basketball team and their fans got to see what can happen when they put it all together.

The Bulldogs came out on fire against the Class 6A Eagles, hitting shots both inside and out, executing plays, taking care of the ball, and playing quick, aggressive defense. The result was a 23-14 lead that had Hobbs on its heels.

But the Eagles aren’t a perennial power for nothing.

The boys in black and gold regrouped and marched methodically back, taking a 35-33 lead at the half and a six-point edge going into the fourth quarter. And although the ‘Dogs gave themselves a chance throughout, Hobbs was able to hold on for the win, 66-54.

“I think that’s the best first quarter of basketball we’ve played all year,” Artesia head coach Michael Mondragon said after the game. “We hit our shots, we played good D. The way we came out, and how hard we played for four quarters – I couldn’t ask for anything better.

“I really feel like we’re starting to peak. We’re catching the momentum, getting our basketball legs under us, and if we keep doing this, I really like our chances come district.”

The Bulldogs struck first Saturday with a Carlos Caldera trey off the opening tip and never let up. Artesia answered each of Hobbs’ early efforts with buckets by Ethan Duff, Caldera and Justin Houghtaling, and after that, the latter would go off.

Houghtaling completed an old-fashioned three-point play, then followed with a spin move in the paint, a longball and two from the free-throw line to shellshock the Eagles, who found themselves down 21-8 with around a minute to go.

Hobbs was able to reel off a 6-2 run to end the period but still trailed by nine going into the second, 23-14.

It didn’t take the Eagles long to come charging back, however, as Hobbs posted the first seven points of the quarter to make it a two-point game, 23-21.

Taylor Null posted an and-one and Duff added one from the stripe, but the Eagles knotted the game at 27-all with just over three minutes to go, then took the lead, 31-29.

Artesia was able to twice reinstate the deadlock in the final moments of the half on layups by Caldera and Joe Willingham, but Hobbs held the slight edge at the break, 35-33.

The Bulldogs went tit for tat with the Eagles through the opening minutes of the third, regaining the lead, 40-39, at the five-minute mark on four points by Caleb Brewer, two from Caldera, and a Houghtaling free throw.

Hobbs turned the tables for the final time on the night with a 7-0 run, but strong drives inside by Duff, Carlos Carrasco and Willingham kept Artesia in the mix going into the fourth, 53-47.

With the ‘Dogs going cold from the field in the final eight minutes, however, the Eagles were quickly able to bump their advantage to 10, and with just a single field goal in the quarter, courtesy of Houghtaling, Artesia could not bridge the gap.

Houghtaling finished with 16 points on the night, followed by Caldera with 14 and Willingham with 10. Pierre Swain did the bulk of the damage for Hobbs with 23 points, Jordaan Gonzales added 14, and Clay Strasner delivered 12.

Artesia shot 34 percent from the field on the night to Hobbs’ 49.

“We just overall weren’t consistent enough tonight, and I think that’s what ended up getting us there at the end,” said Mondragon. “Silly turnovers, silly mistakes, lack of execution – the little things. So we’re going to go into this week really working to fine tune the little things. We’re going to have four good days of practice and get ready for our first district game.”

The Bulldogs (8-9 following Saturday’s loss and a 59-43 loss Friday in Carlsbad) will join the Lady Bulldogs in hosting Lovington for their District 4-AAAAA opener Friday at the Pit. Having been shown what they’re capable of versus Hobbs, the ‘Dogs should have a fresh burst of confidence going into district play.

“It’s the second season,” Mondragon said. “So now we’ve just got to come out with the mindset that it’s 0-0. Nothing else matters. And I love where we’re at right now. I couldn’t be more pleased as a coach with the way we’re playing as a team, how hard we’re playing. I’m anxious and excited to see what we do come Friday.”