Published: 1:42 am, Sun. Feb. 19th, 2017Updated: 1:38 am
By the final moments of Friday’s District 4-AAAAA regular-season finale at Goddard, the Bulldog faithful were still on their feet, cheering on the bench, while the home crowd had all but vacated the premises.
It was a testament to the excitement surrounding this year’s Runnin’ ‘Dog basketball team, which closed out Round Two of the second season with another decisive victory over the Rockets, 61-40.
“This was just a great way to finish district,” head coach Michael Mondragon said Saturday. “Going into a hostile environment and being able to play four quarters of basketball and get a 20-point win was just excellent.
“This was one of those games where you have to make sure you’re mentally and physically ready to play, and I thought our guys were. To come out and play the way we did and finish strong in district is a positive thing going into the district tournament.”
The Bulldogs and Rockets went back and forth through a low-scoring opening four minutes of play Friday, but holding a slight 8-7 lead, the ‘Dogs closed out the quarter with a flourish.
Bryce McAlister delivered a hard drive to the hoop, while Caleb Dean and Devon Torres struck from beyond the arc, Torres’ coming at the buzzer to give Artesia a jolt heading into the second, 16-7.
Chaney Hardt went on a personal mission as the period commenced, popping a pair of treys and a floater in the lane, and adding three from the free-throw line to quickly make it a 15-point game, 28-13. Alan Cosio followed with a pair of buckets in the paint, and although the Rockets closed out with four unanswered, Artesia carried a 14-point advantage into the locker room, 32-18.
Torres drained a longball to kick off the third quarter, and the ‘Dogs surpassed the 20-point mark a few minutes later on the legs of an 8-0 run that included three points each from McAlister and Taylor Null, and a Joe Willingham hook.
A Willingham offensive putback helped keep Artesia’s lead comfortable despite seven late points from the Rockets heading into the final eight minutes, 45-28.
The junior posted a layup and a free throw to open the fourth, and after four points from Torres and three from McAlister punched Artesia’s lead back over 20, the Bulldog bench took the court with fresh enthusiasm, delivering a trey, courtesy of Luke Nelson, and a bucket in the paint from Kameron Aguilar.
“The biggest thing right now is just playing as a team,” said Mondragon. “We’re sharing the ball, we’re playing great team D… everybody is doing their job, and when we have somebody who isn’t, somebody else is stepping in.
“This was a great team win. We’re understanding that everybody’s got to be ready every night, and if we keep doing that and focusing on putting the team first and understanding that any given night, we’re going to ask different guys to do different things, we’re going to go far in the district tournament and the playoffs.”
The Bulldogs finished 37 percent from the field on the night to Goddard’s 26 and were 12 of 19 from the stripe while committing just seven turnovers. Torres led all scorers with 13 points, followed by Hardt and McAlister with 11, and Josh Dominguez and Dalin Stanford posted 11 each for the Rockets.
The Bulldogs (18-8, 4-2) will now have a five-day break to prepare for their District 4-AAAAA Tournament run, which begins at 6 p.m. Thursday at Bulldog Pit against the winner of Goddard vs. Lovington.
“We’re going to give the guys a couple days off over the weekend, meaning we have to come in Monday ready to get after it with three great days of practice,” said Mondragon. “This is a great time for us to rest some guys, get some guys healthy that need to rest, and just worry about us.
“We’re going to really work on our execution and make sure we’re ready to go come Thursday. One thing we set a goal of this year was to win a district championship, and that possibility is still there. We just have to go in with the mentality that we have a lot of work to do and get ready for a tough battle Thursday.”
Should the ‘Dogs win their semifinal bout, they will advance to the D4 Tourney title game Saturday at Roswell High.
“The support and the backing we’ve gotten from this community just continues to be amazing, and it’s been a great experience seeing the support these guys have gotten,” Mondragon said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to get a home game for state but nothing is guaranteed, so we’d love to see a huge crowd come out Thursday to help these guys get a win and get our momentum going.”