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Bulldog second baseman Cody Fuentes fires to first over a sliding Henry Jaramillo to complete a 6-4-3 double play in the top of the second inning Thursday at Brainard Park. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

Through a string of low-scoring losses and a one-run win in the seventh-place game of last weekend’s Caveman Classic, the Bulldog baseball team played near-flawless defense but struggled heavily at the plate.

Clearly, there’s no place like home.

The boys in orange finally delivered the offensive breakout they’d been waiting for Thursday evening in the opening round of the Artesia Invitational at Brainard Park, shutting out ninth-ranked Belen (4-5) 5-0 amidst a nine-hit performance.

“We were finally able to get some baserunners and drive them in last night,” head coach Lee Johnson said today. “Maybe we’re coming out of this slump and can get a little confidence at the plate now.”

All five of the Bulldogs’ runs Thursday were batted in by senior Jharyss Granger, whose 3-3 evening included a pair of doubles and Artesia’s first home run of the season.

Joining Granger at 3-3 was Taylor Null, who swatted a trio of singles and personified three of the ‘Dogs’ runs.

Artesia got the ball flying in the bottom of the first when leadoff Cody Fuentes singled and advanced to third on a Null base hit with one away. A Robert Fernandez walk loaded the bases for Granger, who picked up his first two RBI on a high ball into center field that went unseen by the Eagle defense.

Null led off with another base knock in the third and scampered home on a Granger double off the left-field wall, and the junior singled to become Granger’s duck on the pond again in the fifth when the senior sent a bomb down the left-field line and out to round out the final.

“I think we’re swinging at better pitches,” Johnson said. “If you can swing at them when they’re strikes and lay off them when they’re balls, the percentage sure goes up that you’re going to get a hit or hit the ball harder, anyway.”

Belen threatened to get on the board a few times in the contest, putting runners in scoring position in four of their seven trips to the plate.

Six-four-three and four-six-three double plays in the second and sixth innings respectively, and a Miguel Martinez sliding snag in right field and force out at third by pitcher JR Bustamante on a bunt in the fifth helped hold the Eagles at bay.

Bustamante went six and one-third innings with four hits, one strikeout, and two walks before being relieved by Fuentes in the top of the seventh after beaning a pair of batters. Fuentes logged a K and a fielder’s choice to end the game.

“We played outstanding defense again and got pretty good pitching from JR,” said Johnson. “He got us a couple double-play ground balls and made a good play on that bunt to throw a guy out at third, so he was pretty agile last night.

“We made some good catches. They hit some balls at us hard, but we were in the right spots at the right time. I was pleased with our play on defense as a whole, and hopefully we can keep hitting the ball against Deming tonight.”

The fifth-ranked Wildcats (5-3) came from behind Thursday to defeat another set of ‘Cats – Lovington – 5-2 to advance to tonight’s winners’ bracket semifinal.

“They’ll have a good pitcher saved for us again, but we’ve seen everybody’s No. 1 this year, so it’s not going to bother us who they have out there,” Johnson said. “We just have to keep playing good defense and getting some pretty good pitching, and I think our bats are going to stay alive out there.”

The Bulldogs (5-2) will also be looking for another healthy crowd to mix orange with their St. Paddy’s Day green and turn out tonight to back the squad as they vie for a spot in Saturday’s tournament championship.

“We had a real good crowd last night… sure was pleased to see that,” Johnson said. “I know everybody’s excited to get to come out here and watch and cheer, and have a good time in the warm weather.”