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(Brienne Green – Daily Press)

To say the District 4-AAAAA season didn’t go the way the Lady Bulldog basketball team hoped would be an understatement.

At points in every game, the Artesia girls looked solid, putting all the elements together and going blow for blow with all three of their D4 foes. But at points that decided each of the seven contests, the Lady ‘Dogs struggled, particularly from the field, giving their opponents the opening they needed to pull away.

It’s those types of struggles that kept Artesia out of the Class 5A State Tournament over the past two seasons. But with a solid regular-season mark of 13-6 that included wins over some district champions and higher-ranked opponents, and a .500 finish overall, the Lady Bulldogs proved themselves worthy of inclusion this year.

And with the No. 12 seed in hand, they’ll find themselves – a bit maddeningly and a bit appropriately all at once – facing a familiar face right off the bat: No. 5 Goddard at 6 p.m. today in Roswell.

“We’ve had a good couple of weeks of practice,” head coach Jeff Houghtaling said today. “The girls have been focused and working hard, and we’ve watched a lot of film.

“It’s not great that we get to play Goddard in the first round, but there are a lot of good things about it, too. We know them pretty well, we were competitive with them both times we faced them for at least two or three quarters. We don’t have to travel that far, so that’s not going to be an issue, and we match up pretty well with them size-wise.”

The Lady ‘Dogs got off to solid starts against the Lady Rockets in both of their matchups Feb. 3 and Feb. 17. Artesia proved themselves capable of squaring off with the girls in blue in the paint and matching their aggressiveness overall. Where the Lady Bulldogs were eventually tripped up in both 63-42 and 64-43 losses was the accuracy department: As Goddard began to heat up from the perimeter, Artesia struggled to find the hoop.

Today, they’ll be looking to keep their shooting hands hot and, on the other end of the court, in the faces of the Rockets while also limiting the turnovers that have plagued the team throughout the year.

“They’re going to be tough again, no doubt,” Houghtaling said. “Obviously they’ve beaten us twice, but the girls are still real positive about it.

“I think if we go out and put together a whole game, we have a good chance to be right there at the end, and then who knows what can happen. We’re just going to go out, battle, try to take care of the ball, and hit some shots, and if we can stay close, I think we can do a couple good things to get the win.”

Should the Lady ‘Dogs succeed, they would advance to Tuesday’s quarterfinal round at The Pit in Albuquerque and the winner of No. 13 Farmington vs. No. 4 Albuquerque Academy.
It’s a goal Houghtaling is confident his athletes can attain, and he hopes to see a significant crowd at Ground Zero today to help them on their way.

“I know the girls really want to go play at The Pit in Albuquerque, and we’re using that as a motivating factor,” said the coach. “They want to keep going in the state tournament. They’re excited about getting in. It’s something we haven’t done in two years, and they feel good about it.

“We want to thank all the fans for their attendance this season. We’ve had a lot of great games, and we sure appreciate that support and hope to see people up in Roswell Friday. We also want to wish the boys good luck Saturday and hope everything goes well for them.”