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Joe Willingham puts a fly-by off the glass during the first quarter Saturday against Santa Teresa at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

The Runnin’ Dogs delivered their fourth-best offensive showing of the season Friday at Bulldog Pit. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t enough to counter the hot hands of the Alamogordo Tigers.

The Class 5A Tigers shot lights out in a showdown between the classification’s seventh- and eighth-ranked teams, and the result was an 80-64 victory over the ‘Dogs.

The Artesia boys were able to regroup Saturday afternoon, however, manhandling Santa Teresa at the Pit to improve to 13-6 with a 54-30 win.

“That was a good bounce-back game for us,” head coach Michael Mondragon said Saturday. “For us to come out and play like we did, take care of the ball, really pressure them, and get another 5A win – any time you can get those, you want to make sure you take care of business.”

The boys in orange turned their frustrations from the night before into momentum against the Desert Warriors, with Bryce McAlister and Caleb Dean draining treys to open the contest and Joe Willingham staging a hostile takeover of the paint.

The junior put 10 consecutive points off the glass in the first quarter, and Dean finished off the period with an old-fashioned three-point play to make it 19-4 Artesia heading into the second.

There, the ‘Dogs embarked on an early 8-0 run that included buckets from McAlister, Devon Torres and Alan Cosio, and a pair from the free-throw line by Taylor Null.

Santa Teresa posted its third bucket of the day with five minutes remaining in the half and was able to match the ‘Dogs in scoring through the final moments to trail 31-10 at the break.

Torres logged a pair of layups early in the third, one off a steal by Dean and the other by way of his own thievery on the Warriors’ end of the court. Tyler Greenwood hit one from behind the arc midway through, Torres posted an and-one, and Willingham logged another basket and one from the stripe to send Artesia coasting into the fourth, 45-17.

A Null offensive putback, a hard drive to the hoop by Willingham, and an Enrique Cosio longball saw the Bulldogs flirt with the mercy rule with just over five minutes left in the game, but Santa Teresa would fend it off from the line, with Alan Cosio making good on a feed from his twin to round out the final, 54-30.

Willingham led all scorers on the bout with 15, followed by Torres with 10 and Dean with eight. The ‘Dogs shot 39 percent from the field in the contest, 63 from the line.

Friday’s loss to Alamogordo was a bitter pill for the Bulldogs, who trailed by just three at the half and by one with four minutes remaining in the third. But the Tigers made those four minutes their own, reeling off 11 unanswered points to carry a 12-point edge into the final quarter, 60-48.

There, the ‘Dogs struggled on offense early, allowing Alamogordo to continue chipping away.

Ethan Duff fights his way between a pair of defenders during the first half Friday against Alamogordo at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

The Tigers had bumped their lead to 19, 68-49, by the time Artesia managed its first field goal of the fourth, an offensive putback by Greenwood with around 5:30 left in the contest. With Alamo shooting solid from the stripe, as well, the Bulldogs were simply unable to undo that damage as the final minutes ticked away.

Buckets by Dean, Willingham and Greenwood, and four points from the line by Willingham, could only pull Artesia within 15 with just over a minute to go, and the Tigers countered a late layup off the turnovers by Dean with three of four free throws to set the final, 80-64.

“The bottom line is a team that shoots that well is going to be hard to beat,” Mondragon said. “We had probably the best scoring half we’ve had all season in the first half, but the problem was, they were doing the same thing.

“I felt like our defense really hurt us at times. We’re not rotating like we need to, we’re definitely not rebounding like we can. When you’re playing good teams like that, you can’t give them second, third, fourth chances. But at the end of the day, that’s a good team. They’re very talented, very athletic, and they’re probably going to win their district. It’s just one of those games where we have to look at what we did well and do it better.”

The Bulldogs got Friday’s matchup off to an exciting start, with McAlister and Dean dropping longballs. But following six points gleaned in the paint, a trey by Willington Balsley gave Alamo its first lead, 9-7.

Two from the line by Dean were followed by another Balsley three, but the senior guard was undeterred, sailing into the lane for a high floater, then hitting a three-pointer that, followed by one off the glass from Null, helped put Artesia back in front, 16-15, with just over three minutes left in the first.

Dean would launch another trey and two more from the stripe before period’s end, but the Tigers were able to regain the upper hand heading into the second, 25-21.

Willingham battled through the defense for a shot off the glass, and a pair of McAlister three-pointers and a Torres layup knotted the game at 31-all with 3:30 to go in the half. But another McAlister bomb was sandwiched by seven Alamogordo points to see the Tigers in front by a shot at the break, 38-35.

Nine points from Willingham and four from Torres kept the Bulldogs in the mix through the first half of the third before Alamo unleashed its devastating rally.

Dean ended with 19 points for the Bulldogs Friday, Willingham 17, and McAlister 13. Dee Smith led the Tigers with 29, while Balsley posted 19.

“Like we told the guys in the locker room, that was a big piece of humble pie we had to swallow,” said Mondragon. “Any time you do that, it makes you reevaluate what you’re doing in practice, it makes you go harder, makes you refocus, and I really feel like Friday night is going to make us a better team.

“Sometimes you learn more from a loss than you do a win.”

The ‘Dogs will now have four days off to prepare for the start of the second season of District 4-AAAAA Friday against Lovington on the road. The Lady ‘Dogs will tip off at 5:30 p.m. against the Lady Wildcats, followed by the boys’ game at 7 p.m.

“This is where it starts,” said Mondragon. “Everybody’s 0-0 now, nothing else matters, so from here out, we’re just taking it one game at a time starting at 7 p.m. Friday.

“We just want to thank everybody in Artesia. The crowds have been great, and we want to thank the community for getting behind these young men. We’d really love to see a great crowd in Lovington, and we’re really excited about what these boys have going on. They’re pumped up, so we’re looking forward to a great week of practice and then getting after it Friday for a big district win.”