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Laci Taylor tries one from beyond the arc during the first half against Goddard Friday in Roswell. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

The Lady Bulldog basketball team was looking for a Cinderella story, that elusive spark that would help them erase the woes of a rough district campaign in a single night.

They’d been bested by Goddard twice over the course of their 0-7 District 4-AAAAA slate by lopsided margins, but the team was determined to make the most of their first state tournament appearance in three years.

But while Artesia performed markedly better than in their previous meetings with the Lady Rockets Friday in Roswell, there was one factor any team in the state would have been hard pressed to overcome: The girls in blue simply couldn’t miss from the field.

On an evening that saw Goddard go 80 percent from the field in the second quarter, 57 percent on the night, whilst racking up 11 shots from beyond the arc, the Lady Rockets were running on jet fuel to say the least, firing their way to a 77-40 win over the Lady ‘Dogs.

With that, the Artesia girls closed the book on their 2016-17 campaign with a final record of 13-14.

“It was a tough game, but I thought the girls played really hard,” head coach Jeff Houghtaling said Saturday. “We came out with a lot of intensity, a lot of focus, and really played pretty well. I thought we had a few too many turnovers in the first quarter, but after that, we settled in and did a lot of good things.

“Goddard just shot really well, and it’s tough to beat any team when they’re shooting like that.”
Both teams were getting work done from long range in the early goings of the first quarter Friday.

Alexa Riggs opened the Class 5A State Tournament first-round bout with a trey off the tip. It was answered by both Desi Flores and Katherine Kolker of Goddard, but Riggs and Gracie Tesillo responded in kind to make it 10-9 Goddard midway through.

But while Artesia would post just two more points in the period, courtesy of Gracie Puentes at the free-throw line, the Lady Rockets would counter with 12 to lead 22-11 heading into the second.

The Lady ‘Dogs were able to keep their deficit in the 10-point range initially in that quarter, thanks to buckets from Puentes, Paityn Houghtaling and Kali Crandall, but a 10-0 run by the Rockets would have devastating effects, and a Tesillo three and jumper from Houghtaling in the final moments of the half could only make it an 18-point affair at the break, 41-23.

Artesia battled back in the third, with Houghtaling posting six points in the paint and Kyrah Gonzales adding a longball and a layup, but Goddard was steamrolling, tacking on 23 more of their own to lead 64-37 going into the fourth.

And there was no letting up there, as the Rockets’ bench posted 13 points while forcing five Lady ‘Dog turnovers and limiting the Artesia girls to just three points – all from the stripe – en route to the 77-40 final.

“I wasn’t disappointed we had to play Goddard, but I wish we could’ve played somebody else in the first round,” Coach Houghtaling said. “It was rough after seeing them twice in the weeks just before that.

“But after two seasons of not making it into the state tournament, it was really good to be there no matter who we had to play. It was definitely a step in the right direction for us, and I was really proud of the girls for that.”

Houghtaling finished with 11 points to lead the Lady Bulldogs in their finale, followed by Crandall and Tesillo with seven each. Flores, Micaela Kolker and Camaryn Villalpando all posted 17 for the Lady Rockets.

“I thought we had a great season overall,” said Coach Houghtaling. “To win 13 games is pretty good. I think expectations were higher for us this year, and I think we certainly met some of those.

“Not winning a game in the district season was disappointing, but we were still able to play well enough in pre-district play to make it into the state tournament, which was rewarding. We won some games this year against some teams we hadn’t been beating in the past, and that was good to see.”

The Lady Bulldogs will say goodbye this year to some key seniors in Tesillo, Laci Taylor, Karie Bratcher and Ana Leyva but will have the bulk of their starting lineup returning in 2017-18.

“We had a good group of seniors this year,” said Houghtaling. “Those girls were really committed and did a good job for us.

“Friday night was good experience for the girls who are coming back next year, and they’ll have that under their belt to build on. I think this year was a step in the right direction, and we’re hoping it will get us back on track to being a state-tournament-caliber team each year.”

The Lady Bulldogs will join the Bulldogs in hosting the Artesia High School basketball end-of-season banquet March 30 at the First Baptist Church Total Life Center.