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I’ve chosen to reprint the article on the Bulldog basketball team’s Class 5A state semifinal loss to Espanola Valley.

The primary reason is that a portion of the article wound up hidden behind an advertisement in Friday’s edition of the Daily Press, and I’d like it to appear complete. The secondary reason is that what makes it complete is the contrast shown in the section that wasn’t visible to readers.

It will be easy to find for those who read the original. And, if you’re like me, it will come as a bit of a shock. I can only imagine what my face looked like in the post-game press conference Thursday night when Espanola Valley’s head coach’s first comments had nothing to do with his team’s win and everything to do with taking pot shots at the Bulldogs.

When head coach Michael Mondragon entered several minutes later with Joe Willingham, Chaney Hardt, Tyler Greenwood and Cody Smith in tow, my dominant emotion flipped from shock to anger. These boys who had just played their hearts out did not deserve someone’s casually cast aspersions. They deserved to be celebrated, congratulated, respected – just as Mondragon, incidentally, proceeded to show respect to the Sundevils for a game well played.

I could barely stand to look at Hardt, Greenwood and Smith, who were visibly crushed. Willingham, meanwhile, looked as if he’d like to go one more round, not only with Espanola but the entire gymnasium, and I’d have confidently lain good money on him had someone opened the door and turned him loose.

What all of the Artesia contingent’s faces had in common, however, was the pain and disappointment that come with giving everything you have and not reaping the rewards. The Bulldogs had to contend with more than just the team opposite them on the court, and that’s not fair. It’s never fair.

But this next statement is the moral of the story: They did it anyway, and they did it with pride, grace and class. They played the game the way the game is meant to be played. They were passionate, committed, selfless, humble and fierce all at once.

And Artesia, you should be so proud of them.

I’ve watched a lot of sporting events over my years at the Daily Press, and I’ve seen plenty of highs and lows. But I felt a particularly palpable ache in my chest after Thursday.

I couldn’t bring myself to go over the stats, load the pictures, or get started on the article that night… I put it all off till the next morning and sat on the hotel bed, wishing I could change it for them. That there was a rewind button I could hit that would take us all back to the fourth quarter, where one little thing that should have happened would or that should not have happened would not, and I’d be looking at grins as wide as that confounded ramp at The Pit is steep in the post-game press conference instead.

Sometimes the people who deserve success on a certain day in a certain situation just don’t get it. Sometimes, on another day in another situation, they do – Belen ultimately walked away with the 5A state championship Saturday, the school’s first ever.

The hurt will eventually fade for the boys in orange, and I hope it’s sooner than later. In the meantime, I’d like them to know I’ll remember the 2017-18 Bulldogs for giving me so many thrilling moments – and sore throats and blood pressure spikes, but hey – to watch, so many hard-fought efforts to write about, and one last one that didn’t make any of us happy but made me incredibly proud.

I’d like to encourage everyone to stop this year’s players and coaches if you see them out and about and help that hurt abate a bit faster by telling them the same. They played like champions in an environment that “hostile” doesn’t even begin to describe.

They played like Bulldogs.

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