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Jacob Martinez clears the ball away from Hatch Valley forward Carlos Perez during the first half Saturday at The Mack. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

Through 54 minutes of soccer Saturday at the Mack Chase Athletic Complex, the Bulldog defense had done a stellar job of holding Hatch Valley at bay.

Artesia was producing little on offense, and the result was a game playing out nearly exclusively on the Bulldogs’ half of the field. But despite that, the D was holding their own, waiting for the golden opportunity that would put Artesia ahead and relieve a bit of the pressure.

It had a chance to come just three minutes into the half, when, on a direct free kick, the ‘Dogs tried to use a little gamesmanship to sneak a shot on goal. The Bears keeper saw it coming, however, and made the save.

The boys in orange had their best opportunity later in the half, when forward John Baca found himself looking at an open net behind the charging goalie. The attempt sailed just over the crossbar.

It was painful to say the least, then, when – in the 26th minute of the second half – Hatch’s steady barrage finally found paydirt. The show from the top east corner of the box sailed into the far side of the net, just out of reach of Artesia keeper Aaron Natera.

That lone goal would end up being enough, as the Class 3A Bears closed out the 1-0 win with 12 shots on goal to the Bulldogs’ three.

“We were over three quarters of the way through the game when they scored,” head coach Phillip Jowers said Saturday. “It was just really frustrating, because there wasn’t a lot of time for us to come back.”

To the ‘Dogs’ credit, however, they tried to – aggressively.

Artesia did its best to create a goal in the final 14 minutes, but it wasn’t to be. The effort, though, did not go unnoticed by their coach.

“When they did score, our team kept fighting back,” said Jowers. “And that was a change from previous years and even previous games this year. They kept pressing. I could hear them talking to each other, trying to get each other up.

“The fact we didn’t give up was a big positive for us.”

Another positive was the overall play of the defense, including that of Natera, who logged several quality saves. One in particular stood out – in the 10th minute of the first half against the dreaded penalty kick, Natera was able to block the shot and keep the contest scoreless at the break.

“Aaron played a heck of a game,” said Jowers. “He kept us in that game. That goal they scored on him was just a good shot; you have to give it to the guy that scored it. But he had some key saves that kept us in it.”

With the loss, the ‘Dogs drop to 2-4 on the season as they prepare to host NMMI at 6 p.m. Tuesday at The Mack.

“We just have to keep on going,” Jowers said. “Ultimately, these guys have got to learn to play as a team, and once we figure out how to do that, we’re going to see improvement.”