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Kali Crandall puts up a basket in the paint over Ruidoso’s Ananai Rojas during the second quarter Thursday at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

For the biggest part of the game, it seemed like no matter where the Lady Warriors of Ruidoso turned, the Lady Bulldogs were there.

Hard-pressed at times to get the ball across midcourt, let alone get off a shot against Artesia’s frenetic defense, Ruidoso committed a total of 43 turnovers on the evening. And with the girls in orange converting a good chunk of those to points, the Lady ‘Dogs advanced to the City of Champions Classic semifinal round with a solid 66-31 win Thursday at Bulldog Pit.

“We were really pleased with the outcome, happy to get the win, and happy to advance in the winners’ side of the bracket,” head coach Jeff Houghtaling said today. “I thought the girls played really hard and did a good job of sticking to the game plan.

“We wanted to pressure Ruidoso in the full-court, and we were able to do that and generate some turnovers, which gave us some run-out baskets and easy layups. And those kinds of baskets help build your confidence and get things going your way.”

With help from those fast breaks, Artesia put up their second 60-plus-point total in as many games and were consistent in their scoring throughout, producing 14 in the first and fourth quarters, 19 in between in the second and third.

“We’re more focused on our defensive effort this year than anything else, but I think we’re going to figure out that when we take care of the ball and force those turnovers, we’re going to score more because we get more shots,” Houghtaling said.

It took a few minutes for the Lady Bulldogs to warm up from the field Thursday. The Lady Warriors were able to jump out to a 4-0 lead amidst eight missed shots – two from the free-throw line – but Stacia Martinez was finally able to break the seal around the five-minute mark with a layup off the steal on Ruidoso’s end of the court.

Kyrah Gonzales followed with a trey and Kali Crandall two from the stripe to put Artesia out front for good, and a long jumper by Martinez and pick-two from Gracie Puentes made it 14-9 heading into the second.

Crandall went on an offensive-board-crashing spree in that period, notching eight points off the putback, and with Gonzales and Brehnan Davis adding longballs, the Lady ‘Dogs were able to bump their advantage to 22 by the break, 33-11.

Artesia continued to use its full-court press to harry Ruidoso as the second half began, forcing their third consecutive 10-plus-turnover period.

Puentes set up shop in the paint and was able to post eight points early in the third. Two more buckets from under the basket by Paityn Houhtaling and a layup apiece from Davis and Alexa Riggs – whose deflected pass popped right back into her hands for a seamless, albeit unconventional, give-and-go – put the Lady Bulldogs up 52-26 going into the final eight.

There, a breakaway layup off the steal by Elisa Cardenas, a Crandall bucket off the glass, a transition layup by Kinli Taylor, and a Riggs three combined to close out the 35-point victory, 66-31.

Crandall led all scorers on the night with 15 points, followed by Puentes with 12 and Houghtaling with eight. Andee Roach led Ruidoso with 10.

Artesia shot 38 percent from the field overall on the night and were 10-24 from the line. The Lady ‘Dogs still had a few more turnovers than they’d like with 21 but committed just nine fouls in the game.

“Every girl that got in the game really played hard and did their part,” said Houghtaling. “We played hard defensively, and the thing I’m real proud of is that (Ruidoso) didn’t get in the bonus in either half. So we were able to play hard while still not fouling, which is something we haven’t been able to do the last two to three years, just because of lack of experience.

“But that’s not an excuse this year. All our kids have played a bunch, we have a lot of seniors, and we’ve gotten to the point now where we understand, I think, that putting the other team on the free-throw line is detrimental to our success.”

The girls in orange are now preparing for a stiffer challenge tonight when they take on the Lady Colts of Silver at 6:30 p.m. Silver (5-2) defeated Lovington 45-28 Thursday.

“Silver’s a lot better than Ruidoso, and they’re a man-to-man team, which we haven’t seen yet this year,” Houghtaling said. “It’s really going to be a test for us. The kind of pressure we’ve been putting on teams is the kind of pressure that’s going to be put on us tonight, so I’ll be interested to see if we can continue to increase our turnovers against a good defensive pressure team like Silver City.

“I think we did a lot of good things last night, but one thing we need to continue to spend time on is focus. We came out and missed quite a few easy shots around the basket early on, and we weren’t as good as we have been from the free-throw line. We can also always get better at taking care of the ball. I think we did better than we did last week, but we’re still making some turnovers we don’t need to make.”

Should the Artesia girls come out on top today, they’ll meet the winner of Carlsbad vs. Gallup in Saturday’s 6 p.m. title bout of what has thus far been a competitive tournament.

“It’s been a great tournament,” said Houghtaling. “I’m happy to see both the boys and girls advance, and I know we’re both facing big challenges tonight. But it’s a good field on both sides, and we want to thank the fans, because we had a great crowd last night.

“We also have a lot of generous sponsors, folks who’ve donated food and water and time. There’s been a lot of money donated for different things, so we can’t thank our sponsors enough.”