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Down 10 points with around six minutes remaining in the game, the Bulldog basketball team was still looking for the spark that had eluded it throughout the contest to that point.

After losing an early 7-4 lead over the Class 6A Cavemen of Carlsbad, the Runnin’ ‘Dogs had been unable to pull closer than five points, trailing by as many as 12 in the third.

But with the Cavemen up 43-33 early in the fourth, Joe Willingham was slung out of bounds by Carlsbad’s Adam Sullivan, resulting in a technical foul that sent both Willingham and Caleb Dean to the free-throw line. Dean went 2-2 and Willingham 1-2 to trim Artesia’s deficit to seven, 43-36.

And with a bang from beyond the arc and another at the stripe, a Devon Torres trey and both ends of a one-and-one by Dean brought the ‘Dogs within a shot, 43-41, with 4:13 still to play.

A Matt Rendon Jr. free throw and bucket in the paint by Brenden Boatwright sandwiched a miss in the paint by Artesia to bump the Cavemen’s advantage back to five, 46-41, but with just over two minutes to go, a clutch three by Taylor Null made it a two-point affair once again, 46-44.

From there, things got a bit sloppy. Another miss by Artesia and a turnover forced the Bulldogs to begin fouling, and by the time they put Carlsbad in the bonus, just 22 seconds remained on the clock.

Rendon made the front end but missed the back to leave the door open for a tie, and rather than try from the perimeter, the ‘Dogs turned Dean loose for a skillful drive into the paint. The senior guard was body-blocked on the shot, which sailed through the net as he hit the floor, and the Artesia faithful leapt to their feet in anticipation of the and-one call.

But it never came. And with the 47-46 decision, the Bulldogs moved to 12-5 on the season.

The ‘Dogs kicked off the contest on a positive note, going up 7-4 midway through the first on a Torres three and back-to-back baskets by Dean and Willingham. But the Cavemen would close out the quarter on an 8-0 run and increased their advantage to nine, 16-7, early in the second on consecutive buckets by Chris Johnson.

A Willingham offensive putback and five straight points from Chaney Hardt brought Artesia back within three, 17-14, but Carlsbad again finished strong, going 8-2 in the final minutes of the half to lead 25-16 at intermission.

A jumper and two from the line by Dean after Carlsbad’s first technical foul of the night, buckets by Null and Tyler Greenwood, and two more free throws from Hardt made it a six-point
game, 32-26, and a left-handed hook by Null and Torres longball kept Artesia’s deficit under double digits, 39-31, going into the fourth.

Dean posted 14 points on the night for the Bulldogs, while Null and Torres added nine each. Boatwright led all scorers with 22, nearly half the Cavemen’s final tally.

The Artesia boys will host their second consecutive Class 5A weekend home stand beginning Friday with Alamogordo at 7 p.m. and culminating at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against Santa Teresa.