Published: 4:48 pm, Wed. Feb. 15th, 2017Updated: 4:47 pm
“We’re going to get those guys one of these days,” Bulldog head coach Michael Mondragon laughed this morning.
It’s become something of a mantra in Artesia of late. After years of nothing short of devastating dominance in District 4-AAAAA, Roswell High has been given a run for its money in three meetings this season with the ‘Dogs, winning by single digits each time.
The Bulldogs held a one-point edge at the break Tuesday in Roswell, 19-18, and were able to punch it to five in the early goings of the third.
But after being held to just 26 points through three quarters of play, the top-ranked Coyotes would outscore Artesia 16-8 in the final eight minutes – with nine of those points coming from the free-throw line – to escape with a 42-33 win.
“We’re playing really hard right now,” Mondragon said. “I’m really excited about how hard we’re playing. We’re playing together as a team, and it just boils down to execution. When you play good teams like Roswell, who’s been dominant in our classification for so many years, you’ve gotta execute, especially down the stretch.”
After kicking off the contest with a three-pointer by Taylor Null, the Runnin’ ‘Dogs took an 8-5 lead over Roswell late in the opening quarter Tuesday on a 10-foot jumper by Bryce McAlister and Chaney Hardt trey. The Coyotes were able to inch in front, 10-9, going into the second, however.
There, a quick pair from beyond the arc propelled Roswell to a seven-point edge, but the Bulldogs answered with a 10-0 run that included four points in the paint from Joe Willingham, a Null and-one, and another longball from Hardt to turn the tables at the break, 19-18.
The Bulldogs continued their solid defensive effort in the third quarter, holding the Coyotes to eight points, but could only counter with six of their own as turnovers and missed shots combined to allow Roswell a 26-25 edge heading into the final eight minutes.
The ‘Dogs would keep it within one midway through on a bucket by McAlister and two from the stripe by Caleb Dean, but a turnover and a missed shot resulted in four points for Roswell’s Chris Mesquita. And although a drive to the hoop by Hardt kept it a one-shot game with just under two minutes to go, 34-31, a three in transition from Tarren Burrola made a comeback a long shot for Artesia.
Another turnover led to one from the stripe by Burrola and made the ‘Dogs’ deficit seven, 38-31. Dean delivered both ends of a one-and-one at the 57-second mark, but Artesia’s fifth turnover of the quarter and a pair of misses from beyond the arc allowed the Coyotes to close it out from the line, 42-33.
“I thought we took advantage of some things at times,” Mondragon said. “We got up by five there in the third and could’ve made it more, but we just got stagnant.
“But the exciting thing is these are things we can fix. We’ve yet to play our best game of the year, but we know it’s coming.”
The Bulldogs limited Mesquita – who posted 27 points against them Jan. 31 at Bulldog Pit – to 10 points Tuesday, with Garret Smothermon leading the Coyotes with 13. Hardt and Null posted eight each for Artesia.
With the loss, the ‘Dogs (16-8, 3-2) will end regular-season district play as the second seed. They’ll host the winner of Goddard vs. Lovington next Thursday at the Pit for the chance at another shot at Roswell High in the D4 Tournament championship.
But first, they’ll be looking to close out the regular season on a high note Friday against the Rockets in Roswell.
“We just have to keep getting better,” Mondragon said. “We’re at that point in the year now where it’s all the little things: every single chance we have to make a layup, we’ve gotta make it; every loose ball, we’ve gotta get it; every rebound, we have to go after it. We have to focus on those little things.
“We’re definitely going to shoot a lot more in practice today and tomorrow, and then hopefully we can go up to Goddard and get some of that momentum back to carry into the district tournament. I’m really proud of these guys and really looking forward to a great finish to district Friday night. We’d love to see a great crowd there and then again next Thursday in the district tournament semifinals.”