Published: 1:00 pm, Wed. Feb. 24th, 2016Updated: 3:31 pm
With a trip to the Class 5A State Tournament out of the cards this season, the Lady Bulldog basketball team was playing for pride Tuesday in the first round of the District 4-AAAAA Tournament at Lovington.
And although they came up short of their ultimate goal of earning another game, they can certainly be proud of their final performance.
The Artesia girls battled the Lady Wildcats tooth and nail Tuesday, coming back from a slight halftime deficit to tie the game at 44-all at the end of regulation. And with one overtime not enough, they took it to two.
There, unfortunately, the Lady ‘Cats were able to inch away for a one-point win, 59-58. But for a squad that’s struggled, particularly in the district season, to hold their own, head coach Jeff Houghtaling was pleased to see his athletes go out fighting.
“What a tremendous effort,” the coach said today. “It was all the things you want to see with the exception of the score at the end.
“The girls came out really focused. We had a good game plan, and we came out and executed it well. We were able to hit some shots throughout the course of the game – probably one of our best shooting games of the season – and we were really strong from the foul line. We did a lot of things well and a lot of things right, we just came up a little short right at the end. We had a good look at a shot there in the last couple of seconds, but it just didn’t drop for us.”
The Artesia girls had shown improvement in their final bouts of district play, coming six points away from Lovington in the teams’ second meeting before making a run at the ‘Cats Tuesday.
“I was really proud of the way the girls played, the way they took coaching and their hustle and hard work,” Houghtaling said. “We certainly wanted to play another night, but I think they played their best basketball, and that’s the way you want to end your season.
“You of course want your seniors to go out on a high note in terms of how they performed, and I thought the girls did that. I thought they performed as well as they could. Everybody messed up here and there, there were a few mistakes that obviously cost us the game, but in the grand scheme, I thought we gave our best effort, and I was really proud of them.”
The Lady ‘Dogs finished their 2015-16 season with a final record of 5-21, a mark that in no way reflects their near-misses, particularly during the regular season.
While the end result wasn’t what they’d hoped, for a young and largely inexperienced team, the lessons learned over the course of this year will no doubt prove invaluable.
“I thought it was a good season,” Houghtaling said. “It was an opportunity for us to get a lot of good experience, and I certainly believe it’s going to pay off for us in the future. On the flip side of that, some nights we underachieved, particularly on the offensive end. I thought we were going to be a little better this year in terms of scoring, so we were dissatisfied with that, but given the circumstances, we did well.
“We really only had a couple of kids who had played any varsity at all, so you don’t want to make an excuse, but if you were to make one, I think that’s where you’d go first. All the kids played hard. Some nights we had two freshmen and three sophomores on the court for a good chunk of time, so the experience we got this year is really going to help them out.”
The Lady ‘Dog program will bid farewell this year to three seniors in Alissa Wagner, Mia Oliver and Tori Collins.
“This was a good group, and I love them,” Houghtaling said. “I look forward to seeing the things they do in the future. I know they all have aspirations of going to college and on to bigger and better things. They did a lot of good things for our team this year, and I think they’re going to be great young ladies.
“We want to wish them the best. I know our underclassmen are certainly going to miss them, but we’re proud of them.”
Those underclassmen, meanwhile, will be using Tuesday’s loss as their battle flag for next season.
“I know as soon as the game was over, they were all eager to get ready for next year,” Houghtaling said. “I think this loss left a bad taste in their mouth. They’re all gritty competitors, and any time you go out on a loss like that, it kind of rubs you the wrong way. So I think we’re going to come back a little more committed next year.
“I think we’ll probably see that on the offensive end in terms of how much extra time we spend shooting, and I think this will be a motivating factor for us as we look forward.”