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Gracie Puentes leaps to tip a pass by Santa Teresa’s Brianna Barrera, forcing a turnover, during the third quarter Tuesday at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

A little rust is a given in a season opener. But if there was any lingering on the hoop Tuesday at Bulldog Pit, the Lady Bulldog basketball team rattled it right off.

The Artesia girls went on an offensive tear in their first bout of the 2017-18 season, defeating Santa Teresa 61-24 in a pre-City of Champions Classic warmup that impressed head coach Jeff Houghtaling overall.

“We played well,” said Houghtaling. “Santa Teresa is a little bit down this year, but we shot the ball really well last night.”

The Lady ‘Dogs posted 16 or more points in each of the first three quarters of play at the Pit, predominantly off the hands of two athletes: Kyrah Gonzales and Gracie Puentes. With Gonzales shooting lights out from the perimeter and Puentes going hard in the paint, the two racked up 20 points apiece to lead the team.

Add in a swarming defensive effort that resulted in 33 Lady Desert Warrior turnovers and Artesia had a 39-16 lead in hand at the break and put the 35-point mercy-rule clock in motion with just over a minute to go in the third.

“I thought we were pretty intense on defense, and that generated a lot of turnovers for us,” Houghtaling said. “Those kind of led to some transition baskets, and any time you can get those easy, fast-break layups, it sure builds confidence and makes the goal look a lot bigger when you’re shooting those three’s in your half-court.”

Paityn Houghtaling got things started for the Lady Bulldogs off the opening tip Tuesday, and a Gonzales trey, a Puentes layup off the steal, and an old-fashioned three-point play by Mattie McCombs later, Artesia had bounded out to a 10-1 lead midway through the first quarter.

Kali Crandall entered the game and delivered an offensive putback and a longball for the Lady ‘Dogs, and both ends of a one-and-one by Puentes saw the squad to an 18-4 edge going into the second.

There, Gonzales unleashed a shelling, draining four more three-pointers to bump Artesia’s lead to 22, 34-12, and with a pair of buckets and a free throw by Puentes and two from the stripe by Ali Mauritsen, the Lady Bulldogs headed to the locker room in complete control, 39-16.

Refreshed, the Lady ‘Dogs shifted their defense into an even more stifling gear in the third, picking the Warriors’ pockets for 11 more TOs. Puentes continued to be aggressive inside, racking up eight points in the quarter, Crandall posted her second three of the game, Houghtaling crashed the offensive boards for a basket, and Alexa Riggs delivered a coast-to-coast layup off the steal to make it 55-18 by period’s end.

And with the clock continuously running in the fourth, a final Gonzales three – her sixth of the game – and one from under the basket by Puentes were all Artesia needed to round out the final, 61-24.

The Lady Bulldogs shot between 40 and 44 percent in both halves, 41 percent on the game, and were 63 percent from the free-throw line. Following Gonzales’ and Puentes’ combined 40 points were Crandall with eight, Houghtaling with six, McCombs with three, and Mauritsen and Riggs with two each.

“We’ve got a lot of seniors this year, and that experience is really going to help us,” Coach Houghtaling said. “I was proud of our effort last night.

“We’ve got some areas we need to clean up. I felt like we turned the ball over too many times. We had about 26 turnovers, and down the stretch, that’s going to kill us. So we really need to stress the importance of taking care of the ball, and with the senior leadership we have, that’s a problem that should get fixed pretty fast. Other than that, I thought it was a good game, and hopefully we can use it as momentum going into the tournament.”

This year’s City of Champions Classic is set for Dec. 7-9 at Bulldog Pit, and the Lady Bulldogs (1-0) will open their run at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, against Ruidoso. The Bulldogs, who will open their season with the tourney, are scheduled to take on Goddard at 10 a.m. that day.