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Elisa Cardenas dribbles around Lovington’s Myra Salazar with an offensive rebound during the second quarter Friday at the Pit. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

Elisa Cardenas dribbles around Lovington’s Myra Salazar with an offensive rebound during the second quarter Friday at the Pit. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

After overcoming a slow start to get back on track by the end of the first quarter Friday at Bulldog Pit, it looked as though the Lady Bulldogs might be settling into a rhythm in their District 4-AAAAA opening bout against Lovington.

The Artesia girls struggled from the field in the second but still trailed by just eight points at the half, 25-17.

But those shooting woes would continue in the third, allowing the Lady Wildcats to inch away, 36-24, and with the Lady ‘Dogs failing to post a basket in the final eight minutes, Lovington combined a pair of layups with 10 points from the free-throw line to win going away, 50-26.

“I thought we played a decent first half,” Artesia head coach Jeff Houghtaling said Saturday. “But we came out and had a really slow start in the third and just couldn’t get any baskets to fall.

“It seemed like we couldn’t get any momentum going offensively, and I guess the girls just got their heads down a little bit, because it snowballed from bad to worse in the fourth.”

The girls in orange tumbled into an early 6-0 hole to start Friday’s contest. Turning over their first three possessions of the night, the Lady ‘Dogs didn’t get a shot off until the 5:36 mark, but Kyrah Gonzales made it count. From there, a pair of buckets by Paityn Houghtaling and a Stacia Martinez free throw pulled Artesia back within five, 12-7, and late three-pointers from Gonzales and Martinez made it a one-point game going into the second, 14-13.

Lovington kicked off that quarter with their lone trey of the night, courtesy of Taylor Hill, and would tack six more to their total to make it 23-13 before the Lady ‘Dogs got on the board with the front end of a one-and-one by Gonzales.

Houghtaling put one off the glass on the inbound pass under the basket and Wagner hit one of two from the stripe to keep Artesia’s deficit in single digits at the break.

Alexa Riggs opened the third quarter with a pair of free throws to make it a six-point game, 25-19, but the ‘Cats dashed off six more to take their biggest lead of the night to that point, 31-19.

Laci Taylor cut the gap back to 10 with a jumper, but her second basket of the night would comprise Artesia’s scoring from the field in the quarter, and Lovington headed into the fourth with a 36-24 advantage.

With the final five minutes of play devolving into a series of whistles and walks back and forth to the free-throw lines, Artesia needed to hit every shot it was allowed in between. Unfortunately, the team went 0-12 in the period as the Lady ‘Cats cruised to the lopsided final.

Gonzales and Houghtaling led the Lady Bulldogs on the game with six points apiece, followed by Martinez and Taylor with four each. Myra Salazar had 15 for Lovington and Addy Jeter 12.

Further hindering the Lady ‘Dog offense were 28 turnovers on the game to Lovington’s 18. Artesia was 8-15 from the line and the Wildcats 15-28.

“It was disappointing,” Coach Houghtaling said. “I thought the girls were a little more ready to play. Don’t get me wrong, they did well the first half, but the second half was just not very good at all. And it’s tough when you start district thinking you’re in good shape and ready to play, and then you don’t play very well.

“It was tough, but that’s the way this district is going to be. It’s going to be even tougher on the road for us, which is why we were hoping to protect our home court against Lovington and Goddard and then give Roswell a run for it, too. Starting off with a loss at home hurts, but even so, I feel like we can beat Lovington and Goddard at their place.”

The Lady Bulldogs (5-15, 0-1) will join the Bulldogs Tuesday in their first road trip of district play at Roswell High.

The Coyotes and Lady Coyotes are the favorites in D4, but Houghtaling hopes to see his athletes shake off Friday’s loss and leave it all on the court Tuesday.

“We just have to buckle down, refocus, and hopefully get some confidence back in our shooting,” said the coach. “We’re a different team when we hit shots early.

“It’s going to be a tough one up there, but I thought our crowd was really good last night at home and I think it will be really good at Roswell, too. The Pit was a great environment to play in last night in every way but score wise, but we’re still excited about district and we’ll be ready to go back at it Tuesday.”