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John Baca (12) and Jake Trejo (6) go up in an attempt to head a corner kick toward the goal during the first half Thursday at The Mack. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

John Baca (12) and Jake Trejo (6) go up in an attempt to head a corner kick toward the goal during the first half Thursday at The Mack. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

The Bulldog soccer team put up a solid fight Thursday against Class 6A Gadsden at the Mack Chase Athletic Complex but couldn’t quite keep pace with the fleet-footed Panthers.

Gadsden was adept at ball control and kept play predominantly on Artesia’s half of the field through the duration of the contest. But despite more than 20 looks, the ‘Dogs were able to hold the Panthers to three goals on the night, the last coming in the final seconds of the game.

“We knew coming into this game that they were going to be of the same caliber and on the same level as a Hobbs,” Artesia head coach Phillip Jowers said today. “So we already knew what to expect to some degree as far as how well organized they were going to be with their passing and things like that.”

That skilled attack put significant pressure on the Bulldog defense, which rose to the occasion multiple times Thursday. Keeper Aaron Natera had a stellar outing, logging numerous acrobatic saves and blocks, including two back-to-back prior to the Panthers’ first goal of the game.

A miscue left the ball directly in front of the net, however, and Gadsden was able to fire it in from point-blank range to make it 1-0 with 17:57 to go in the opening half. The Panthers’ second goal with 5:22 remaining in the half also came on a rebound.

“I thought Aaron played one of the best games I’ve ever seen him play last night,” Jowers said. “And he’s only a sophomore. You can only do so much in the 80 minutes we’re playing, though, and eventually, if we don’t get any counter-options, they’re going to get goals.”

The Bulldogs were able to fend off Gadsden through the bulk of the second half before, with around one minute to go in the contest, the Panthers were able to sneak one in from the top of the box.

“I think the guys all played really hard, and I think everybody left it out there on the field,” said Jowers. “If we look at it from the standpoint of how hard the kids played and where we were last year, I think that was a good fourth game of the season. And we’ll only be getting better.

“It’s just shows us we have to do what it takes, connect a few more passes, and find some more people in space when we do have the ball.”

The ‘Dogs (1-3) will now have a week off before hosting Carlsbad at 6 p.m. Sept. 8, and Jowers hopes to see a healthy crowd for the Eddy County War soccer-style.

“That’s always a good game, and we’d really like to encourage people to come out,” said the coach. “The boys really look forward to playing the home games because they get to have all their friends come watch, and it’s be nice to have a good crowd for them.”