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The Lady Bulldog basketball team took the court on a mission Tuesday in Lovington. And although they ultimately came up short, the primary takeaway will remain the same, regardless of what happens from here on out: “We’re playing our best right here at the end of the season.”

That assessment from head coach Jeff Houghtaling is any skipper’s goal. That it all comes together in the games that count is nothing less than a necessity, and the Lady ‘Dogs’ progress through the “second season” of District 4-AAAAA can be measured in their bouts with Lovington alone.

The Artesia girls were topped by the Lady Wildcats 47-33 Jan. 27 on the road, then came within four points of the girls in blue Feb. 10 at Bulldog Pit despite sloppy performances in the first and third quarters.

And Tuesday in the first round of the D4 Tournament at Lovington, the Lady Bulldogs battled back from a 12-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter to a 43-43 tie with just over three minutes left to play.

The rally began with both ends of a one-and-one by Alexa Riggs, who – following a Paityn Houghtaling free throw and a bucket from Gracie Tesillo – delivered three more from the stripe to make it a four-point game, 40-36.

Consecutive layups off the steal by Gracie Puentes and a shot in the paint by Stacia Martinez knotted the game, but from there, Artesia was forced to begin fouling.
Lovington went 5-6 from the line over the course of the next 60 seconds, but a running jumper by Tesillo kept the Lady ‘Dogs within a shot, 48-45, as the clock approached the one-minute mark.

A basket by Lovington’s Ashanti Vaughn and Alexis Borrunda free throw, however, made it a two-possession game with 30 seconds remaining, 51-45, and with a pair of misses and a turnover in the final seconds, the Lady Bulldogs went down by seven, 52-45.

“It was a good game,” Coach Houghtaling said today. “The girls played hard and they did a really good job of competing, especially in the second half. We overcame a pretty big deficit and were able to fight back and tie it up.

“They really battled right down to the end, and I think that’s something really positive for us to look at as we reflect on the season – to see that we’re playing our best here at the end of district. That was certainly one of our best games of the year in terms of effort, fighting back, and giving ourselves a chance to win the game.”

Both teams got off to a slow start offensively in the contest, with Lady Wildcat Addy Jeter breaking the seal with just under five minutes to go in the first quarter.

The Lady Bulldogs would take it from there, however, as Kyrah Gonzales drained a trey, Kali Crandall logged an offensive putback, and Tesillo punched in two from the stripe to put Artesia up 7-2 heading into the second.

Unfortunately, the ‘Cats began to heat up from the perimeter, with Rylee Mapes and Azaria Stewart posting longballs to push Lovington out in front.

A turnover-induced layup by Puentes would mark Artesia’s only points amidst a 17-2 run by the girls in blue, but the Lady Bulldogs were able to trim their deficit back a bit at the break, 23-15, on a free throw and a trey by Gonzales in the final seconds.

Lovington took advantage of seven Artesia turnovers in the third quarter, however, to outscore the Lady ‘Dogs 17-13, with eight of those points a direct result of steals and four more of offensive boards.

Puentes finished with 12 points on the night for Artesia, followed by Gonzales with seven and Tesillo with six. Stewart led all scorers with 17.

“It was good for us to play a good, tough, competitive game right here in the district tournament to prepare us for a possible state-tournament setting,” said Houghtaling. “We’re hoping to get in, and if we do, I feel like we’re going to be ready, because we competed in a really tough district and got better each night.

“I certainly wish we could’ve won this one, but we can’t change that now. We can just reflect on the good stuff, the positive things we accomplished.”

The Lady Bulldogs (13-13, 0-7) will be anxiously awaiting the results of the Class 5A basketball seeding and selection meeting Sunday.

“Looking at the criteria, I think we can get in,” said Houghtaling. “We may be a pretty low seed, but one of the criteria is overall record, and we’re at .500 there, and another is wins against district champions, and we have three or four of those on our schedule.

“We’ve been in the top 10 or 12 all season long on MaxPreps and in the top 10 in the coaches’ poll, as well. We just play in a tough district. I think the other three teams have a shot at all being in the top 10, and that’s also a good reflection on us. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, but I’m real optimistic about it right now, and I think the girls are, too.”