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Few jaws could refrain from dropping open Friday once word spread that the top-ranked Lady Bulldog softball team had suffered a district loss.

The Artesia girls had, up to that point, been nothing short of dominant for the majority of the season but in particular through the first four games of their District 4-AAAAA slate, only one of which made it past five innings.

Lovington was ranked third in Class 5A and certainly no slouch despite their youth, but what happened in Game One no one – not even the Lady Wildcats – likely saw coming: The power-hitting Lady ‘Dogs were limited to just four hits on the contest.

“It was just difficult,” head coach Sandra Pulido said Saturday. “You can’t blame the wind, because they had to deal with it, too. But we’re a line-drive-hitting team, and that just doesn’t work in wind like that. So we went to small ball, which we’ve been utilizing quite a bit lately, but (Lovington) just played it perfectly.

“It was little things, like not hitting it where we needed to, and their infield is really sandy, which also didn’t work in our favor. They scored two runs on an error, one of a few defensive miscues we normally don’t make, and they just capitalized on our mistakes.”

The result was a 3-2 victory for the Lady ‘Cats, a definite feather in their caps.

Even more frustrating still was the fact the Lady ‘Dogs still played well enough to win under most circumstances. Starting pitcher Kacey Thurman held Lovington to just four hits of their own on the contest.

The Wildcats took their 2-0 lead in the third on the two-run wild throw that resulted when first baseman Kali Crandall missed the tag of the batter, then was errant attempting to catch the lead runner at home. But Artesia responded in the top of the fourth, tying it up on a two-run single to right by Elisa Cardenas.

But from there, the Lady Bulldogs’ offense continued to lag, and the team would notch no hits through their final three at-bats. The ‘Cats, meanwhile, took one run out of the fifth on a Danika Utajara single to lock up the victory.

Freshman pitcher Kaeleigh Vega finished the seven-inning four-hitter with five strikeouts and three walks. Cardenas accounted for half of Artesia’s offense on the day, going 2-3.

But despite the turn of events, the Lady Bulldogs proved why they’re ranked atop New Mexico’s softball standings in the nightcap, shaking off the loss and slapping Lovington with a 14-2 run-rule win to preserve the split.

The Lady ‘Dogs wasted no time going out in front in that contest, scoring four in the top of the first on an Adrianna Baeza base hit and a three-run homer from Melody Payne.

Two more runs crossed in the second on a Baeza double and an error, and Artesia batted around in the third, scoring on an infield-single-turned-error by Alexa Riggs, a Kamiley Marquez base knock up the middle, a bases-loaded hit batsman, and a two-RBI double from Payne to make it 11-0.

The girls in orange tacked on a trio of insurance runs in the fourth on a Baeza double and another two-RBI two-bagger from Payne, keeping the run rule intact despite two runs from Lovington in the bottom of the fifth, 14-2.

Kali Crandall took the W in that contest with no hits and seven strikeouts through three complete. Younger sister Rylee finished out the game with three hits allowed through two.
Baeza finished 3-3 at the plate, while Payne and Kali Crandall both went 3-4.

“Right off the bat, we were hitting the ball a lot better in the second game,” said Pulido. “I really felt like we hit the ball well in the first one, too, the wind just held it up. But it was good to see us play hard and get the win as a team, lifting each other up when we needed to. The fight after losing that first game was huge.”

The Lady Bulldogs (17-3, 5-1) will now head into the second round of district play with a renewed sense of purpose. They’ll take on Roswell High at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Mack Chase Athletic Complex, and Pulido and her staff will be looking for their athletes to shore things up in their final regular-season games.

“Just tightening up our defense, tightening up the little things on offense,” said the coach. “The first half of district, we left a lot of baserunners on and had a few baserunning mistakes. We got better as we progressed, but that’s definitely something we’re going to be focusing on – better execution on the small things.”