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Bulldog keeper Aaron Natera slides to block a shot by Portales’ Pedro Perea during the first half Thursday. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

Bulldog keeper Aaron Natera slides to block a shot by Portales’ Pedro Perea during the first half Thursday. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

The Bulldog soccer team had been hoping for an improved performance the second time around against a Portales team that defeated them 3-0 Sept. 10 on the road. But with five starters out of commission Thursday night at the Mack Chase Athletic Complex, that goal unfortunately became a lofty one.

The ‘Dogs competed well overall, however, despite the 4-1 loss, overcoming a first half that saw the Rams dominate en route to a 4-0 halftime tally to play an evenly-matched second and prevent the shutout with a late goal.

“Portales is a good team, and we knew kind of what to expect from them,” Artesia coach Phillip Jowers said Thursday. “It’s just hard when half of your field players are basically just trying to get healthy for district.”

Portales was able to gain the upper hand quickly with a pair of quick goals in the ninth and 14th minutes, the first off a corner kick and the second on a hard ground shot into the corner. Their third goal came at the 36:05 mark, and their fourth with one second remaining in stoppage time.

The Bulldogs had a solid look off a direct free kick in the 39th minute but would manage just one shot in the half.

Artesia would regroup and put together a more solid effort in the second 40 minutes, once again managing just a single shot but this time making it count on a header by Carlos Martinez off the cross by Jesus Valdez.

“We used this game to kind of experiment with our backup formation,” Jowers said. “We’ve played it before this season but only once, and it’s definitely one we can utilize.

“I’m really proud of our reserve players for coming off the bench and playing a stellar game. That’s why you practice hard day in and day out as a reserve player so you can step up when the time comes and fill that gap, if not take the position away from somebody who’s starting. That’s why there’s competition, and that’s why we work as hard as we do.”

The ‘Dogs will continue their three-game home stand at 3 p.m. Tuesday against Hatch Valley at The Mack before hosting Ruidoso Saturday, Oct. 1, at 3 p.m. Artesia opens District 4-AAAAA play at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4, in Lovington.

“All of the boys who were hurt were basically begging me to play them last night, but it’s just one of those things as a coach where you have to kind of explain to them that we have to take the right steps here to have a healthy team,” Jowers said. “Roswell beat Portales 1-0, and if we played 1-4 with half our bench, the odds will definitely be a little higher when we have our five starters back on the field.”