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The Lady Bulldog basketball team knew they were capable of competing with Alamogordo. They’d led the Lady Tigers through three quarters Jan. 19 at Bulldog Pit before coming up three points short in the fourth, 45-42.

But in a season that saw the Artesia girls deliver some of the highest highs the program has experienced in years – including their second-ever District 4-AAAAA championship and a top-10 seed into the Class 5A State Tournament – they had also suffered frustrating lows.

The latter was almost always sparked by inconsistency on offense. While the Lady ‘Dogs possessed the ability to shoot lights out, there wasn’t much in the way of middle ground. Either they were on or they were off, and those two positions had a habit of alternating from quarter to quarter. That would be the case Friday in Alamogordo. And unfortunately, it spelled the end of Artesia’s 2017-18 campaign, 51-40.

“Last night was a tough one,” head coach Jeff Houghtaling said Saturday. “They just outplayed us, and we didn’t have our best game. I thought we had a really good week of preparation, but I didn’t feel like we were very focused when we got off the bus.

“Sometimes that doesn’t matter. But I think last night it probably did. We got off to a slow start, and we had to go to our bench a little more than we’ve been doing in the first quarter. I think it helped, because in the second quarter, we certainly picked it up and made a heck of a run to cut it down to four by the half. But then the second half was kind of a repeat – they jumped on us in the third quarter, we made a little bit of a charge in the fourth, but by that time, it was too little too late.”

It wasn’t a surprise for the Lady Tigers to come out strong on their home court, spurred by a trio of early three-pointers. But the Artesia girls could find no rhythm to counter, with a shot under the basket by Alexa Riggs and one from Paityn Houghtaling comprising their only field goals of the quarter as seven turnovers also hindered their cause.

Down 16-5 going into the second, the Lady ‘Dogs saw their deficit grow to 13 early, but to their credit, they battled back.

Senior Gracie Puentes followed a short-range jumper with both ends of a one-and-one, then posted two more buckets to single-handedly pull Artesia back within five, 20-15. Free throws from Elisa Cardenas and Stacia Martinez ended the half with the Lady Bulldogs well in the hunt, 21-17.

The Lady Tigers came out reenergized for the second half, however, and once again, the girls in orange tumbled into an early hole.

Six points by Alamo made it 27-17, and although the Lady Bulldogs fought back within two, 27-25, on baskets by Kyrah Gonzales, Kinli Taylor, Brehnan Davis and Riggs, the Tigers closed out the quarter 9-1 to lead by 10 going into the fourth, 36-26.

Puentes delivered an early basket off the turnover and Gonzales went 2-3 from the stripe, but sandwiched by 10 points from the Lady Tigers, Artesia found themselves down by 15 midway through the period. A Davis jumper and a bucket and two free throws by Kali Crandall brought the Lady ‘Dogs’ deficit under 10, and a Martinez trey with just over a minute to go made it an eight-point game, 47-39.

But two missed free throws – also a significant problem for Artesia on the night – were followed by baskets from the Tigers as Alamogordo capped the 11-point win.

Puentes led the Lady Bulldogs with 10 points on the night. Artesia shot 33 percent from the field and were 11-26 from the stripe.

“We were certainly discouraged with the loss last night, but I thought overall, we had a great year,” Coach Houghtaling said. “I was extremely proud of the district championship, and we qualified for the state tournament, so getting to do those two things was pretty exciting for the program.

“After come in last in the district the last three years, coming out on top was a big hurdle we covered. These girls also played hard all year. They were really coachable, and they helped this program take a big step in the right direction.”

The Lady ‘Dogs will say goodbye this year to eight seniors in Puentes, Martinez, Riggs, Crandall, Cardenas, Matti McCombs, Ali Mauritsen and Alesa Anguiano.

“We had a great group of seniors, and we’re certainly going to miss them,” said Houghtaling. “I think they did a really good job of showing our younger girls how to compete and how to be unselfish and do the things we ask them to do.

“We have a real good group coming up behind them and some good young girls coming up from junior high, so I feel like they’ve left our program in really good shape. We’ve got some fantastic coaches down there at junior high and Zia. Everybody’s on the same page, and all the pieces of that finally came together this year with this senior group. I think the girls who are coming back now are going to have a big advantage over a lot of teams in the past because we’ve had that success. It’s a lot easier to do it once you’ve done it before.”

Houghtaling also expressed appreciation for the support the Lady Bulldog program enjoyed this season.

“The crowds were fantastic, and all the things our parents do for our kids is phenomenal,” said the coach. “I’ve been fortunate enough to coach here my whole career, and I can’t imagine being anywhere better. The support we have here is unmatched, and our kids are really lucky.

“I don’t think they always recognize that when they’re in high school, but it doesn’t take long for them to realize how blessed they were after they get out and look back. But it’s one of the parts of my job to recognize it, and I’d be crazy not to mention it every chance I get. Our fans are second to none, and we’re lucky to be in the situation we’re in in Artesia.”