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Lady Bulldog sophomore pitcher Kacey Thurman delivers to the plate during the second inning of Artesia’s bout with Carlsbad Saturday afternoon in the Lady ‘Dog Invitational fifth-place game. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

Lady Bulldog sophomore pitcher Kacey Thurman delivers to the plate during the second inning of Artesia’s bout with Carlsbad Saturday afternoon in the Lady ‘Dog Invitational fifth-place game. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

Lady Bulldog softball coach Sandra Pulido summed up her squad’s finish in the fifth-place game of the Lady ‘Dog Invitational Saturday in one succinct sentence: “We just didn’t show up.”

Artesia’s 9-0, five-inning loss to Carlsbad in the consolation final was frustrating for the girls in orange on a number of levels.

After racking up 11 hits half an hour earlier in a 13-2 defeat of Goddard, the Lady ‘Dogs struggled at the plate, breaking up Cavegirl junior Teddi Garcia’s no-hitter with just a single, perfect bunt by speedy leadoff batter Alexa Riggs in the bottom of the third. A few untimely errors helped extend Carlsbad’s big innings in the first and second, as well.

But most of all, it was an atypical performance for a squad that has proven itself in early-season road tournaments. Learning to keep their efforts consistent when emotions are high is something Pulido says the young squad will focus on moving forward.

“It just wasn’t the way we usually play,” said the coach. “We came out this morning against Goddard, our defense played well, we hit the ball well. And they were excited to play Carlsbad. We just haven’t gotten to the point yet where we know how to channel that energy.”

The Cavegirls gained the upper hand early in the contest. A leadoff walk followed by a throwing error gave Carlsbad two runners in scoring position with no outs, setting the table for RBI singles by Gabby Aragon and Kaylie Hewitt. Another throwing error on an attempt to hold a runner at third following a fly out saw the second of two unearned runs in the inning cross the plate, and the Cavegirls led 3-0 going into the home half of the first.

After seating Artesia in order, Carlsbad tacked on four more in the second on a bases-loaded walk and a three-RBI triple by Rylan Gonzales, then made it 8-0 in the third on a Sierra Suter double.

Riggs’ bunt single in the home half gave the Lady ‘Dogs runners at the corners with one away, but following a strikeout, Riggs was caught stealing at second before Cassandra Trujillo could cross the plate from third to maintain the shutout.

The Cavegirls, meanwhile, would score once more on a Savanna Suter single in the fifth, and Artesia fell in order to end the game by way of the eight-run rule.

Sophomore pitcher Kacey Thurman took the loss in the contest, giving up nine hits and six earned runs through five innings of work.

The Lady Bulldogs were a different team in their morning opener against Goddard, racking up eight runs in their first two trips to the plate with help from an Elisa Cardenas RBI double, an Aubree Olguin sac-fly, and a two-run home run in the second by DH Preslie Stark.

The Lady Rockets got on the board in the third on an error, but Artesia answered the run in the bottom half when Melody Payne double in Cardenas, aboard with her second two-bagger of the game. And after Goddard added a second run in the top of five, the Lady ‘Dogs closed the book by way of an Adrianna Baeza RBI double, an error, and a walk-off two-run shot by Stark.

Sophomore Jelisia Perez picked up the win in the circle with five hits and one earned run allowed. Cardenas was 3-3 at the plate with two doubles and one RBI, Payne 2-3 with a double and a RBI, and Stark 2-4 with the two homers and four runs batted in.

The Lady Bulldogs had landed in the consolation bracket Friday evening by way of a 10-5 loss to Silver.

Pulido intentionally challenged her squad with a quality opponent in the opening round, and if not for a six-run third that saw a trio of unearned runs come in for the Lady Colts, Artesia would have been in the mix.

“Silver City has a good program,” Pulido said. “We’ve faced some good teams at the tournament we’ve played in, and I wanted our team to have that level of competition in the first game to see how we fared.”

After holding Silver scoreless in the top of the first, the Lady Bulldogs took a 2-0 lead in the home half on a home run by Ale Flores. But the Lady Colts cut that in half in the second on a Madison Mattie solo shot, then batted around in the third to quickly go up 7-2.

Artesia pulled back within three in the bottom of the inning on a two-RBI double off the center-field fence by Gabby Gomez, but Silver added insurance runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth to pull away for good. Olguin doubled to lead off in the bottom of the seventh and advanced to third on the throw, but the next three batters went down in order, with Olguin scoring on a ground out.

“This was definitely a learning experience for us as a team and as a program,” Pulido said of the tournament. “We have to learn how to pick ourselves up and stay in the game when we’re down a couple of runs, how to dig ourselves out of holes.

“And that goes back to being a young team. They have experience, a lot of them have played travel ball, but it’s a different dynamic.”

Saturday’s sunny, warm weather was a 180 from the rain and sleet that delayed the tournament proceedings Friday, and Pulido said she was pleased with the way the tournament went off as a whole.

“You wouldn’t have even known we had bad weather yesterday,” she said. “I think the tournament went well. All of the teams saw some good competition, and the games were good. When you have 4-3, 3-2 ballgames, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

While the Lady ‘Dog Invite marked the Artesia girls’ 2016 home opener, it also marked the end of their regular-season slate. Astonishing as it seems, the Lady Bulldogs (8-6) now head into a nine-day break before opening District 4-AAAAA play April 12 against Roswell High on the road.

“We’re going to get back to working on fundamentals again,” Pulido said of the team’s plans for the time off. “I know I say it a lot, but it’s true – if you do the little things right, the big things are going to fall into place, especially in softball.

“Defensively, we’re definitely going to work on certain situations we were put into this weekend, and hitting wise, we just have to get back to small ball. Not necessarily bunting – they have the bunting part down – but just putting the ball in play and letting it do its thing.”

After coming up short of Miyamura for the second time on the year March 24 at the Kristin Griego Tournament in Rio Rancho, the Lady Bulldogs came back to win Pool A with victories over Farmington (11-7), Espanola Valley (12-2 in five innings), Highland (22-0 in three innings) and Lovington (6-0). Flores and Thurman earned spots on the All-Tournament Team.

The skills are there. All the Lady Bulldogs need to do is learn to harness them regardless of the scenario or the level of the stakes. Pulido is confident they can and will.

“I’m very proud of how far we’ve come,” she said. “With a new coach, there’s new rules, new executions that the girls have to acclimate to, and so far, they’ve done a really good job of that. We just have to put it together.

“We have it during the week in practices, but it’s different when there’s somebody in the other dugout. But I’m very proud of how we’ve come along as a team, and I know what they’re capable of.”