Published: 2:50 pm, Sun. Feb. 25th, 2018Updated: 2:48 pm
It wasn’t field-goal shooting, although that facet of the Lady Bulldogs’ game certainly didn’t help their cause in the second half of Friday’s District 4-AAAAA Tournament championship.
Artesia was 16-49 from the field on the night (33 percent) to Goddard’s 13-44 (30 percent). The Artesia girls also committed a few too many turnovers on the night with 25 but still managed to better the Lady Rockets’ total (29) in that stat column, as well.
What it all essentially came down to was the charity stripe. Contrary to the noise emanating from some in the opposing camp, the Rockets made 24 trips to the free-throw line Friday to Artesia’s 13, converting 16 of those attempts for a 67-percent evening. The Lady ‘Dogs were only good on seven (54 percent).
And with that, Goddard claimed the D4 Tournament title, 45-41.
Breaking the game down to statistics shows the literal why, but the girls in orange know the figurative how also played a major role. Had they taken better care of the ball in certain circumstances, hit just a handful more than the four field goals they produced in the second half, the outcome would have been different.
That knowledge will now serve as powerful motivation as the team puts Friday night in their rearview and prepares for the first round of the Class 5A State Tournament this weekend.
“We did a good job of executing the game plan, and we were really in position to win the game,” head coach Jeff Houghtaling said Saturday. “We just missed a few key free throws right there at the end.
“But the girls played hard, they gave great effort, and overall it was a good game. I certainly wish we could’ve come out on top, but I think as far as everything else goes, it was a good opportunity for us. We haven’t been in position in a lot of years to host a district tournament championship game, so I feel like that’s something to be very proud of.”
The Lady Bulldogs came out stronger than they have in perhaps any other game this season before a healthy home crowd at Bulldog Pit.
Kali Crandall, high point in Monday’s regular-season district championship win in Hagerman, nailed a three-pointer one minute in to get the ball rolling, and following a long two by Kyrah Gonzales, shots off the glass by Alexa Riggs and Gracie Puentes, and a Crandall offensive putback, the Lady ‘Dogs found themselves on top by nine, 11-2.
Puentes added one in the paint and an old-fashioned three-point play with around three minutes to go in the period to expand Artesia’s lead to 11, 16-5, but from there, turnovers severely limited offensive opportunities for both squads, with the Lady ‘Dogs committing eight and the Rockets 12.
The Lady Bulldogs would attempt just two more field goals in the quarter, however, missing both, while Goddard got a pair of free throws from Camarynn Villalpando and a trey from Bailey Beene with eight seconds to go to pull back within six, 16-10, heading into the second.
There, a Puentes free throw and a bucket off the inbound pass and short-range jumper from Paityn Houghtaling bumped Artesia’s lead back into double-digits early, 21-10, but an ensuing scoring drought by the Lady ‘Dogs once again allowed the Lady Rockets to narrow the gap.
With Goddard back within five at the three-minute mark, consecutive buckets by Stacia Martinez and Kinli Taylor helped keep Artesia in front, and Elisa Cardenas would answer a PJ Villareal three with an NBA-range longball at the buzzer to send the Lady ‘Dogs into the locker room with an eight-point advantage, 28-20.
To that point, the girls in orange had outshot the Rockets 44 percent to 25, limiting the girls in blue to just five field goals in the opening half. Unfortunately, their own shooting would fall below even that mark in the final 16 minutes of play.
A 10-0 run orchestrated solely by Villalpando to start the third gave Goddard its first lead of the night, 30-28, before the Lady ‘Dogs knew what had hit them, and the Lady Rocket senior would go on to add four more to account for 14 of Goddard’s 16 points in the quarter.
Artesia didn’t post its first field goal of the period until just moments remained, but it — a shot under the basket by Taylor — and a breakaway layup off the turnover by Riggs kept it a one-shot game going into the fourth, 36-33.
An offensive putback by Puentes to start made it 36-35, but that would mark the Lady ‘Dogs’ only field goal until the final minute of play, when the senior hit again from under the basket. Artesia missed nine shots in the final minutes, five from three-point range, and despite clutch free throws by Martinez and Puentes, Goddard was able to pull away for the 45-41 win.
Puentes finished with 14 points for Artesia, followed by Crandall and Taylor with five each. Villalpando led the Lady Rockets with 24 and Beene accounted for 13.
“It’s frustrating, but we don’t spend a lot of time talking about winning and losing,” Coach Houghtaling said. “We try to talk about success and how success isn’t always measured on the scoreboard. Last night, it wasn’t for us, but we were still very successful in the things we did. We got to our spots, got the shots we wanted to take, took care of the ball, and got to the foul line – all the stuff we were trying to do. Sometimes you just don’t get the bounces, and last night was one of those nights.
“We have a group of seniors this year who hadn’t won a district game till this year, so to go from that position to being district champs after that tie-breaker Monday, we feel like we’ve come a long way, and I’m really proud of that. In this group of seniors, we have a couple who don’t really get to play that much, but every one of them has done their part. Every day in practice, they compete hard, they’re coachable, they have fantastic attitudes, and sometimes that gets lost in the shuffle. I want to commend those seniors, from the kids who do get to play a lot to the ones who don’t, because they’ve done a great job of leading our team and putting us in this fantastic position.”
The Lady Bulldogs will now await the results of Sunday’s Class 5A seeding and selection show to learn where they’ll fall in the state playoff bracket. With a regular-season District 4-AAAAA championship in hand, the Artesia girls should be able to secure a high enough seed to earn a home game in this weekend’s first round.
“I’m really proud of what our girls have done this season, and they’re going to be rewarded by getting into the state tournament,” Houghtaling said. “That was one of our major goals, and we play a schedule that’s conducive to getting recognized around the state. We play a lot of teams from the north and southwest, and I really feel like we’ve done enough to get a top-eight seed. Our district’s also very competitive, and I think folks around the state know that.
“The girls are excited, and we’re ready for the final stretch. We always break the season down into three parts – pre-district, district and postseason – and we’re going to do our best to make the postseason the most exciting. We’ll get together tomorrow night, have supper, and watch the show together, and if everything turns out the way I hopefully think it should, we’ll start getting ready Monday for a home game.”