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Pictured from left are Class 5A Individual High Series Award winners, from left, Coy Moorhead, fifth place; Will Davis, fourth place; Alex Harmon, fifth place and Second High Game (238); and Zach Ingram, third place. The four are standing in front of a plaque dedicated to former APS superintendent Mike Phipps at the Administration Building. “Us starting bowling was his idea in 2007,” bowling coach Ken Clayton said. “Four state championships later…” (Courtesy Photo)

ARTESIA — Artesia High School Bowling coach Ken Clayton always has the same simple question for his young Bulldog bowlers when they reach a milestone or accomplish a victory: “Now what?”

It sure seemed like a fair question to ask when last season’s state championship team consisted of three freshmen in the starting five. The answer from Clayton’s Fab Three, as he called them, was, “We win again!”

Fast forward to last week at the New Mexico High School Bowling Association State Championships at Silva Lanes in Albuquerque.

“I never allowed them to talk about back-to-back championships or do any huddle breakouts referring to back-to-back, because I wanted them to earn their way as this team, in this season,” Clayton said. “Finally, at practice during the week of state, we sat down and talked about what back-to-back state titles really meant and what it was going to take to get there.”

The Bulldogs knew if they could get off to a fast start and build not only the lead toward the top qualifying spot but also get the momentum going, they would be on top of their game plan. Fast starts are one thing, and then there are the Bulldogs.

Sophomore Alex Harmon led off with a 238 game, junior Zach Ingram a 236, sophomore Will Davis a 224, and sophomore Coy Moorhead a 223 game, along with sophomore Ethan Velo’s 168, and the Bulldogs rolled a tournament-high game of 1089, which gave them a 147-pin lead after only one game.

The second game saw Moorhead roll another 223, Ingram 210, Velo 183, Harmon 177, and Davis 166 for a team 959. The final qualifying game had the Bulldogs nearly reach the 1000 mark again with a 989, led by Davis’ 222, Moorhead 215, Ingram 204, Harmon 192, and Velo 156. The Bulldogs’ three-game total of 3037 gave the ‘Dogs the top seed in Class 5A by a huge 259 pins over second-seed Los Lunas.

By securing the top seed into bracket play, which is contested using a double elimination match play format, the Bulldogs were awarded a bye into round two. Farmington defeated Del Norte to move on and match up with the Bulldogs there. State championship matches are conducted using the Baker Game format, where each of the five bowlers on the team rolls two frames to complete one full game. That game score is matched against the opponent’s Baker Game, and the team to win the best of three series moves on in the bracket.

The Bulldogs came out strong and never looked back, defeating Farmington 2-0 with game victories of 222-121 and 175-161. Next up for Artesia would be the number-two-seeded Los Lunas Tigers, and again the Bulldogs would be victorious, 2-0, winning the first game 195-167 and the second 209-185. The win over the Tigers put the Atresia bowlers in the championship match against Espanola Valley.

After taking game one 202-171, the ‘Dogs were one good game away from the state title. Strikes by Velo and Harmon got things started, and following two spares and a Davis strike, the Bulldogs had their season goal in sight. A Velo spare was followed by a Harmon strike, a Moorhead strike, an Ingram strike, and two strikes by Davis to close out an eight-strike, 242 game and secure the Bulldogs the New Mexico High School Bowling Class 5A State Championship.

“I could not be more proud of a team of young people than this team,” Clayton said. “Last year with three freshmen, we kind of snuck up on some people. This year, we were the team everyone was coming for, and these guys never wavered. To average over 200 for the day, including Baker games under the pressure of the state championship format, is so good.

“I want to acknowledge my assistant coach Tim Harvey and Holly Harvey. They always stay in the background and out of the spotlight, but man, they are the rock of this program. Very special people and so important to me and to our team. Also, Kenley Ortega and Andres Baeza are seniors that worked hard and made the trip on our state team. We were in good hands should we have had a sickness or injury.”

The 2017-18 Artesia High School bowling program is recognized for their Class 5A state championship during Monday’s meeting of the Artesia Public Schools Board of Education. (Teresa Lemon – Daily Press)