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Bulldog junior David Barnes leaps in to take the ball away from a Belen defender during the first half Saturday at The Mack. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

Anyone holding their breath to see just how improved this year’s Bulldog soccer team would be in their 2017 season opener against Belen Saturday at the Mack Chase Athletic Complex needn’t have worried about losing consciousness.

The ‘Dogs logged the game’s first goal just one minute and 13 seconds in, and they kept the party going from there, kicking off a new campaign with a 5-0 blanking of fellow 5A team Belen.

“I thought we looked good,” head coach Phillip Jowers said Saturday. “I think these guys want it more than they have in a while. Losing games the way we have the last couple of years, you can only take so much. And hopefully we can keep that mentality and continue knocking people off as we move through the schedule.”

The Artesia boys were a whirling dervish of offensive pressure in the early goings of Saturday’s bout. Their aggressiveness clearly caught the Eagles off guard, and John Baca took advantage, scoring at the 1:13 mark.

Belen was able to collect themselves a bit defensively, preventing further feeding frenzies if not solid attempts on goal. The ‘Dogs would launch eight more at the net before connecting again in the 38th minute, this time on a shot by Jesus Valdez.

The Eagles, meanwhile, headed into the half with only three shots under their belt.

“I felt like we were moving the ball really well,” said Jowers. “Everybody was communicating, everybody was pretty unselfish with the ball, making the passes and covering for each other when they needed to.

“Whenever we’re playing like we did today, it’s fun to watch. And I know the guys have fun playing when things are going like that.”

Their enthusiasm recharged at the break, the Bulldogs once again came out firing in the second half, scoring a pair of quick goals in the sixth and ninth minutes, courtesy of Cesar Leyva and Baca. They rounded out the 5-0 final at the 14:20 mark on a shot by Carlos Martinez.

Belen once again found its opportunities limited, shooting thrice, including a pair of direct free kicks that were successfully waylaid.

“We had a good showing from everybody today, including our new eighth-graders we had out there,” Jowers said. “I’m really glad they were able to get this first win, because they put in a lot of hard work and time to get where they are right now.

“Now we’re just looking to keep moving down the right track.”

The ‘Dogs’ next stop will be Hobbs, where they’ll square off with the Class 6A Eagles at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Then, it’s off to Carlsbad at 6 p.m. Thursday for the Eddy County War, soccer style.

“Hobbs lost in double-overtime to Roswell this week, so I think that game against them will be a great gauge for where we’re at,” said Jowers. “It’s pretty much going to be game, game, game for the next couple of weeks, which is why we worked so hard in the summertime.

“Our talent’s there and the desire and heart are there. We just need to work on keeping them healthy so they can execute.”

To that end, Jowers said he was grateful for the presence of Artesia’s new athletic trainer, Koby Caton, at Saturday’s game when the inevitable bumps and bruises surfaced.

“He did a great job with helping us out there today, and I think he’s going to be a great addition to everybody’s toolbox when it comes to sports in Artesia,” Jowers said.

As far as other potential weapons in the ‘Dogs’ arsenal, the coach hopes to see them continue to stay hungry and motivated as the early season continues.

“If we can keep everybody healthy, we’ll do well,” said Jowers. “Some of these boys have played together for three years, a lot of them have played together for two… they went through a lot together, and that builds character and puts a little grit on you.

“Whenever you have the opportunity to put the pedal down like we did today, it’s a good feeling.”