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Lovington’s AJ Ochoa collides with Artesia shortstop Dominic Madrid as he attempts to field a ground ball during the top of the first inning in Game One Tuesday at Brainard Park. Ochoa was called out for interference on the play. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

Lovington’s AJ Ochoa collides with Artesia shortstop Dominic Madrid as he attempts to field a ground ball during the top of the first inning in Game One Tuesday at Brainard Park. Ochoa was called out for interference on the play. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

The Bulldog baseball team’s 2016 District 4-AAAAA opener was a marathon affair Tuesday at Brainard Park, nearing a 10:30 p.m. finish by the time all was said and done.

But despite falling behind the Wildcats in the early goings of both contests, the Artesia boys rose to the challenge in decisive fashion, sweeping the ‘Cats 11-3 and 10-2 to kick off the second season with a record of 2-0.

“For the most part, we played well,” head coach Lee Johnson said today. “We gave them some runs early in both games. We usually don’t make those mistakes like letting a ground ball get past us or not catching a ball, but they’re preventable, they’re things we can fix, and we’ll get them ironed out before the Goddard double header.”

With the rain that surrounded Southeast New Mexico and forced the postponement of the Lady Bulldog softball and Artesia High School tennis teams’ district openers still drizzling at the start of Game One, the Wildcats were able to take a 2-0 lead out of the top of the first inning on a two-RBI single to left-center field by Isaiah Montoya.

The ‘Dogs would waste little time remedying the situation, however, batting around in the home half.

With Cody Fuentes and Grady Frost on as walked and hit batsmen respectively, a RBI single by Jharyss Granger and a throwing error tied the game at 2-all with no outs. Artesia was able to double down before the at-bat’s end on a Dominic Madrid RBI fielder’s choice and a double by catcher Robert Fernandez.

Lovington pulled back within a run in the second on back-to-back singles by Dominic Marquez and Lucas Arreola, but the Bulldogs surged ahead again in the bottom half on a Granger RBI double, a bases-loaded walk by Madrid, and a Fernandez fielder’s choice.

Frost belted a solo home run over the fence in right-center in the bottom of the third, and the ‘Dogs would tack on a trio of additional insurance runs in the fifth and sixth innings, all on double-steals, to round out the final.

Artesia was aggressive on the basepaths throughout the night, thieving eight bases in Game One and six in the nightcap.

Fuentes, on in relief of starter Brooks Donaldson in the mid-top of the second, notched the win on the mound with no hits, no runs and no walks allowed through four and two-thirds innings, ringing up six on Ks.

Granger finished 2-3 at the plate on the contest with a double and two RBI, Frost went 1-2 with the homer and one RBI, and Carrasco and Fernandez were both 1-3, the latter with a double and two runs batted in.

Despite the lopsided final tally, production from the plate was light for the ‘Dogs in the opener, with just five hits posted against two Lovington pitchers. Artesia would pick up the pace, however, in Game Two.

The ‘Cats were again able to gain the upper hand early when Marquez led off with a triple in the top of the first and was plated by an Arreola RBI ground out.

But the Bulldogs would tie things up in the home half on a Frost RBI triple, then go ahead in the second on another double-steal.

Lovington reinstated the deadlock in the top of three on an Arreola double, but after inching back in front again in the bottom of the inning by way of a Carrasco RBI single up the middle, the ‘Dogs would begin putting daylight between them in the Wildcats.

With junior Granger on the mound in relief of starter CJ Imparato, the ‘Cats were held at bay through the fourth, fifth and sixth innings while Artesia made it 5-2 in the fourth on a pair of errors and broke the game open in the fifth, scoring five on a Daniel Moncada RBI single, an error, a Fuentes infield base hit, and a two-RBI triple by Frost, his second three-bagger of the game.

As he did in Game One, freshman JR Bustamonte then came in on the hill to close out the game, allowing one hit and striking out two.

Carrasco and Moncada both finished 3-4 at the plate in the nightcap with one RBI apiece, Fuentes was 2-2 with a pair of walks and one RBI, and Frost and Granger both went 2-4, the former with three runs batted in and the latter with one.

“We started hitting the ball better in that second game,” said Johnson. “I thought our offense when we had runners at first and third was pretty good all night. We scored one run in the first and I think three in the second off of running that offense, so I was really pleased with that.

“It’s stuff we work on in practice, not every day but we sure touch on it, and if a team gives us that, we’re going to try to take advantage of it.”

Granger took the win on the hill with no hits and no runs through two and two-thirds, striking out seven.

“I was real pleased with our pitching last night,” Johnson said. “I thought our kids for the most part threw well, and we got some kids some work in before Friday who are going to pitch Friday, so that double header was good for a lot of things besides just two wins.”

With the sweep, the Bulldogs improve to 7-8 on the season and will continue the first round of district play Friday with a 5 and 7 p.m. double dip against Goddard at Brainard Park.

“Goddard’s tough,” Johnson said. “I assume they’ll save their 1 and 2 pitchers for us, but they’ve got a lot of good arms, and they swing the bats pretty well. Of course, they’re always solid on defense, so we’re going to have to play our best games up to this point in the year.

“We keep telling the kids if we can do all the fundamental things right and get pretty good pitching, we’re going to be in every game, and that’s what we’re going to strive for Friday. And if our bats keep coming alive a little bit here and there, you can’t ever tell what might happen.”

As the rain abated early in the first game, the evening became a pleasant one for the Bulldog baseball team’s annual Youth Baseball Night, during which all teams from the Artesia Youth Baseball league were recognized on the field.

“It’s always fun to get to see those kids out there, and it’s exciting because I’m sure all those kids will at some point want to be Bulldogs,” Johnson said. “You like to have big crowds like that, as well, and hopefully Friday we can get a bunch of people to come out and support our team.”