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Left with a bad taste in their mouths following Friday’s 70-62 loss to Los Alamos, the Bulldog basketball team headed to Albuquerque determined to end their Class 5A weekend on a high note.

Through three quarters, they were neck and neck with the Knights of Del Norte, but when clutch time rolled around, the boys in orange stepped up. With a 14-15 showing from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, the ‘Dogs refused to leave anything to circumstance, and they were rewarded with a 60-55 win.

That victory improves their overall record to 11-5 as they prepare to head into the home stretch of their 2017-18 regular season.

“I was really pleased,” head coach Michael Mondragon said Saturday. “For us to be able to bounce back after last night, it was just a tale of two different games.

“We had some great, great free-throw shooting in the fourth quarter by Chaney (Hardt) and Tyler (Greenwood), Clay (Houghtaling) added a couple in there, and making those big shots from the line was able to keep us in the lead and get us a 5A win.”

Down 37-35 heading into the final eight minutes, the Knights got an offensive putback from Ronson Begay to tie things up, but a Taylor Null trey would quickly right the ship for the Bulldogs.

Kale Mauritsen and Joe Willingham followed with buckets in the paint, and following a pair of free throws by Hardt and one from Greenwood, the ‘Dogs had built themselves a 10-point cushion.

It turned out to be vital, as Del Norte rattled off nine unanswered to pull back within one.
With 3:33 remaining in the game, Houghtaling drained two freebies, and Hardt followed a Knight bucket with an old-fashioned three-point play to keep Artesia in front as the clock fell under two minutes.

Twice more Hardt would chase Del Norte scores with two from the stripe to ensure an and-one with 30 seconds to go could only bring the Knights within two, 56-54. As fouling became mandatory for the Knights, they thought they were in the clear by sending someone other than Hardt to the line, but Greenwood would go 4-4 in the final seconds of the game to round out the final, 60-55.

It was a solid end to a hard-fought game by the Bulldogs.

Artesia had gotten the contest off to a good start, with consecutive baskets by Null and Mauritsen, and a pair of three’s – one old-fashioned and one modern – from Greenwood providing a 10-3 lead in the opening quarter.

The Knights would outscore the ‘Dogs 9-4 in the final minutes, however, to trail by a basket, 14-12, going into the second.

Del Norte would then reverse that margin in another low-scoring period.

Hardt kicked off the second with a layup, but a 9-2 run by the Knights gave them their first lead of the afternoon, 21-18. Null converted both of a pair of technical-foul free throws and Hardt would follow with two more, but another Del Norte run helped see the Knights to a 27-25 advantage at the break.

Greenwood opened the third quarter with a longball, but it would be the Bulldogs’ only field goal until the senior provided a jumper midway through. Both ends of a one-and-one and a drive to the hoop with under a minute to go by Hardt, however, put Artesia up by two going into the fourth, 37-35.

“The kids battled,” Mondragon said. “I don’t think people realize how tough it is to get 5A wins on the road. It’s tough. These teams are all good, all competitive. But this weekend is going to make us better and help us get ready for district.”

Greenwood finished with 18 points on the night to tie Del Norte’s Daniel Flores for top-scoring honors. Hardt finished with 15, followed by Mauritsen and Null with seven each.

The Bulldogs will now prepare to join the Lady Bulldogs in hosting Battle No. 2 of the 2017-18 Eddy County War series Tuesday at Bulldog Pit. The ‘Dogs came up short of the Cavemen Dec. 22 on the road, 51-42, and the team is hoping for a solid home crowd to cheer them on to a split.

“We have a brutal schedule,” said Mondragon. “It’s road-heavy, but we’re sitting at 11-5, we’ve beaten some very good 5A teams, and both games this weekend are going to make us better.

“To see us stumble a little bit Friday but then bounce back Saturday just shows we’re learning from our mistakes, we’re growing, and we’ll need to continue to do that this week before they start counting for real.”

Friday, Jan. 12
vs. Los Alamos

It started with leaving Los Alamos open for five three-pointers in the third quarter. It ended with a handful of missed free throws and turnovers, and a few more questionable whistles. And it all added up to the undoing of Artesia’s halftime lead over the Hilltoppers.

The ‘Dogs matched the ‘Toppers point for point in the fourth quarter of play Friday on the road, making the ultimate difference the 28-16 third that gave Los Alamos an eight-point advantage going into the final eight minutes. It would spell a 70-62 defeat for Artesia and the end of a five-game win streak.

Fifteen of those third-period points came from beyond the arc, as the ‘Dogs failed to sufficiently get a hand in the face of the Hilltoppers’ shooting guards.

A pair of treys to open the quarter by Chaney Hardt had kept Artesia briefly in front, but a 10-0 run by Los Alamos turned the tables, and the Bulldogs were never able to turn them back. A pair of drives to the hoop by Tyler Greenwood and three points apiece from Joe Willingham and Clay Houghtaling could only keep the ‘Dogs’ deficit under double digits going into the fourth.

There, to their credit, Artesia continued to battle.

The moving screens that had resulted in Los Alamos turnovers in the first half of play became fouls on the ‘Dogs to start the fourth, and as the Hilltoppers stepped up the physicality on defense, the Artesia shooters weren’t reaping the benefits. Cody Smith took that as a personal vendetta, kicking off the quarter with a trey and quickly adding a pair from the stripe and an and-one to make it 53-47.

Hardt hit a three of his own, and following another old-fashioned three-point play and a hard-won offensive putback by Smith, the Bulldogs were back within four with 3:40 still to go in the game. A turnover on what would have been a wide-open layup prevented a needed bucket, but Artesia was able to get the ball back and into the hands of Houghtaling, who posted a free-throw line jumper to make it a one-shot affair, 60-58.

A few free throws later — with Artesia going 1-2 on both of their trips — the ‘Dogs were within one, 61-60, with 2:20 to go, and the band of Bulldog fans who made the trek north were on their feet. They were in full voice, as well, a few seconds later, when Joe Willingham blocked a Michael Naranjo shot and had already secured it and passed the ball off to a teammate before a whistle came in.

Naranjo converted both ill-gotten free throws, but Hardt would fight through an uncalled slap for a basket that made it 63-62. On the other end of the court, meanwhile, Antonio Trujillo was awarded an and-one that gave the ‘Toppers a four-point lead, 66-62, with 1:27 to go, and after Houghtaling was called for a charge to give the ball back to Los Alamos, the ‘Dogs finally got a break in the form of a pair of misses at the line.

After Artesia was forced to put them back there, however, with 30 seconds left, Ramon Roybal converted one to make it 67-62. The Bulldogs finally earned another trip with around 20 seconds on the clock but missed both ends, and one apiece in the final seconds by Roybal and Trujillo rounded out the final, 70-62.

It was a tough loss to take for a Bulldog squad that had battled from a slight first-quarter deficit to a halftime lead, but it was also a reminder of the importance of something head coach Michael Mondragon oft preaches: Starting the game strong.

The ‘Dogs had an overall solid first four minutes of play Friday, with Joe Willingham posting a pair in the paint, Hardt two from the line, and Greenwood and Taylor Null an offensive putback apiece, but from there, Artesia’s scoring dropped off.

Los Alamos would account for the final seven points of the period to lead 15-10 going into the second.

Artesia’s offensive opportunities were hindered in the second by 10 turnovers, and although Hardt would go 6-6 from the stripe and Willingham 1-2 through the opening minutes of that quarter, less than two would remain before the ‘Dogs logged their first field goal of the period, a Willingham bank shot that — thanks to solid defense on the other end that held the Hilltoppers to four points in the second — tied the game at 19-all.

Hard drives to the hoop by Hardt and Kale Mauritsen closed out the half and gave the Bulldogs the 23-19 lead.

“I think our defense just really let us down in the second half,” Mondragon said Saturday. “We gave up 28 points in the third quarter, and you can’t do that.”

Mondragon said while the officiating was a source of frustration, his athletes have to learn to be ready to handle those kinds of situations.

“You know you’re not going to get calls on the road more often than not,” said the coach. “I’m never going to blame the officiating for a loss – we just have to be better than the officiating, and we weren’t last night. We made too many mistakes offensively turning the ball over, and too many mistakes defensively with blown assignments and things like that, and when you give a team like that confidence by letting them stick around, you give them a chance to make enough plays to beat you, and that’s what they did.”

Hardt led all scorers on the bout with 22 points, followed by Smith with 14 and Willingham with 10. Gavin Campos finished with 18 for Los Alamos.