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Makinli Taylor puts up a shot under pressure from Carlsbad’s Kaliyah Montoya during the second quarter Saturday at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

The 2018 City of Champions Classic may not have ended how the Lady Bulldog basketball team would have hoped, but for a young squad working to find its footing on the fly, it was a productive weekend all around.

“We’re young, but I think we’re getting better,” head coach Jeff Houghtaling said Saturday following his squad’s 70-23 loss to Carlsbad in the CoCC third-place game. “I don’t know that we got a lot better tonight, but we’re making steps in the right direction.

“It’s a process. Like I was just telling my coaches, I think we’re doing things the right way, and that’s the way it ought to be done. We just have to keep working at it.”

With just a single game under their belt going into the tournament, the Lady ‘Dogs were simply outmatched Saturday by the Class 5A Cavegirls, who return many of the athletes who helped see them to an Elite Eight appearance in 2017-18.

The Artesia girls struggled out of the gate, picking up their first basket, courtesy of Riley Wortley, around two minutes into the first quarter to end a 7-0 run by Carlsbad but not scoring again until the 1:29 mark, when Kyrah Gonzales hit a three to make it 22-5 Cavegirls going ito the second.

Paityn Houghtaling drained a trey of her own in the early goings of that period, but again the Lady ‘Dogs would go cold from there.

A 43-9 deficit at the half meant the third quarter started with the mercy-rule clock in motion.

Two field goals would again be all Artesia put up – a Makinli Taylor shot off the glass and a Wortley three – as the Lady Bulldogs trailed 61-15 heading into the fourth. The girls in orange were held to single-digit scoring again in the final eight, with a pair of Kaylee Wagner baskets and one from Taylor comprising their scoring in the 70-23 loss.

“If you give Carlsbad an inch, they’re going to take a mile,” said Houghtaling. “Going up against them, you have to score, because they’re going to on their end. We’re just not at the point yet where we can match teams bucket for bucket, and I think last night showed that, too.

“We played a great first half against Deming and then couldn’t hit a shot in the second half, but I think as we develop and get better, and some of our younger girls get some more experience, we’ll find that we can score with a little more consistency when we get in those tough games.”

Paityn Houghtaling led the Lady ‘Dogs in scoring against Carlsbad with six points, while Carsyn Boswell delivered 21 for the Cavegirls. Boswell, Kaliyah Montoya and Dayshaun Moore were Carlsbad’s choices for the City of Champs All-Tournament team, while Artesia was represented by Taylor and Gonzales.

“I thought it was a good tournament,” Coach Houghtaling said. “We were disappointed a couple of teams had to cancel today due to the weather, but outside of that, it went well. We were happy to have Seminole here. They won the championship and looked sharp, Deming and Carlsbad were both really good teams. The attendance was good – there were a lot of folks in the stands watching us and the boys play – and it was a good weekend. But we’re ready to get back to work.”

Artesia will hit the road Thursday for a three-game road trip north, starting with a 6:30 p.m. bout Thursday against Albuquerque Academy, followed by a 7 p.m. game Friday against St. Michael’s in Santa Fe and a 10:30 a.m. game Saturday against Los Alamos.

“I’m glad we have about three days here before we play again,” said Houghtaling. “We can take a look at the film from tonight and go back to work on Monday. Like we told the girls, we don’t have to beat Carlsbad to win district. We don’t have to beat them to go to the state tournament. It helps, no doubt, to beat them, but this was an opportunity to get better, and I think we’ll learn a lot as we look at the film and talk about what we need to improve on.

“We really want to thank our sponsors again. The Lodgers’ Tax and the Chamber helped us take care of meals for teams, the Moose Lodge took care of some hotels for teams, which was super. You guys gave us a lot of coverage, and the radio live-streamed all the games, which is pretty unique, and I know all the teams that come in appreciate that if their parents couldn’t make it, they could watch it back home.

“Joy over at Hotel Artesia really does a good job taking care of us with room rates and accommodating teams from out of town, so we appreciate that. All the people who get behind us is what makes this tournament so good.”