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Taylor Null goes up under pressure for a shot off the glass during the second quarter Tuesday at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

Down 35-29 heading into the fourth quarter of play Tuesday at Bulldog Pit, the Runnin’ ‘Dog basketball team had, to that point, done a solid of job of staying within striking distance of Class 6A Carlsbad.

They knew they had the tools – not to mention the will – to turn the tables in the final eight minutes. All that was left was to go out and do it.

Caleb Dean got the ball rolling with a breakaway layup off the steal to make it a four-point affair, 35-31. Carlsbad’s workhorse, Brenden Boatwright, answered with two from the line, but the ‘Dogs responded with the run they’d needed all game.

Nine unanswered points came flying through the net courtesy of a Dean jumper, a Devon Torres layup on the turnover, and a big trey and both equally big ends of a one-and-one by Chaney Hardt. With three minutes left to play, the ‘Dogs were up 40-37 and could finally taste their first win over their county rivals since 2011.

Caveman Josh Sillas put in a jumper from the free-throw line to bring Carlsbad back within one, but Taylor Null would continue Artesia’s ice-water-veined free-throw-shooting performance in crunch time, stepping twice in one minute to the line and converting on all four shots to give the Bulldogs breathing room, 44-39.

With 58 seconds remaining, Null made his defense count, as well, taking a Boatwright charge. Sillas followed with a miss of the front half of a one-and-one, but Boatwright would put one over the back of his head and off the glass to bring the Cavemen within a shot, 44-41, with 12 seconds on the clock.

As time ticked off, however, Boatwright was forced to foul Dean, his fifth, and would exit with seven seconds remaining. Dean kept his solid offensive game going by draining both shots, and as Carlsbad’s desperation attempt bounced off the rim, the amped-up crowd at Bulldog Pit exploded as the clock expired on the 46-41 victory.

“I really am pleased with the effort,” head coach Michael Mondragon said today. “I thought our boys just played hard, and I really liked the way we executed down the stretch for the most part.

“We had some unforced turnovers there toward the end that we have to get better at, but I like the way we finished. I think we were 8-8 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. It was just a gritty win.”

The ‘Dogs got off to a solid start in the contest, with Null delivering a pair of layups. But the Cavemen would reel off seven unanswered to take an 8-4 lead before the boys in orange regained their composure following six turnovers.

Dean stopped and popped from mid-range, and a Tyler Greenwood three-pointer and layup by Dean off the long transition pass gave the Bulldogs a one-point edge heading into the second quarter, 11-10.

Dean kicked off the second period with a wide-open layup, but the Cavemen would again take advantage of some Artesia turnovers and misses with a 10-0 run. A bucket and one from the line by Null would comprise the ‘Dogs’ scoring in the final moments of the half, and the boys in orange trailed by 10, 26-16, at the break.

Dean would deliver six points in the third quarter, Joe Willingham four, and Hardt his first of two treys on the night, but a late longball by Jonathan Sillas and a Boatwright offensive putback put Carlsbad up 35-29 going into the exciting fourth.

“Our kids just did everything we asked them to do,” Mondragon said. “They continue to be coachable, they continue to work hard, continue to play together, and if they keep doing that, the future is going to look bright for these young men.

“We’re definitely happy about this win, and any time you can beat Carlsbad, it’s a good thing.”

The ‘Dogs (5-1) will now prepare to head to Hobbs Thursday for a 7 p.m. meeting with the Class 6A Eagles.

“The biggest thing for us right now is just to continue to work on our offensive execution,” Mondragon said. “I thought there were times last night where we didn’t make good decisions and we have to get better at that, and we also have to continue to just play great man D and quit fouling. We put them on the foul line too much last night and got ourselves in foul trouble, and that was just a matter of us not moving our feet, being disciplined, and staying in front.

“We had a great practice this morning getting ready for Hobbs. We’re going to have to handle their press, have to execute our press breaks and be in the right spot, come to meet the ball. And again, just work to make sure we’re more consistent with our good decision making.”

Mondragon says he and his squad were elated with the enthusiastic atmosphere Tuesday at the Pit and hope some fans will be able to travel to help them against the Eagles.

“That was just a great crowd last night,” said the coach. “I really like the way the community and everybody is getting behind these young men and coming out to support these guys. It was a huge crowd, especially with school not being in session, and we just want to thank everybody for their continued support.

“Hopefully, we’ll get a crowd tomorrow in Hobbs and can go in there and steal a win. But I just want to encourage everybody to continue to come out and watch these guys. They’re doing a lot of great things, they’re working hard, and they’re fun to watch.”