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The Lady Bulldog basketball team came six points away from making it a clean sweep Saturday.

As it was, the Artesia girls emerged 2-1 from their three-game road trip north, besting fellow Class 4A squad Albuquerque Academy Thursday, 69-34, and 3A St. Michael’s Friday, 59-43, before coming up just short of 4A Los Alamos Saturday afternoon, 63-58.

The loss to the Lady Hilltoppers was a frustrating one, as a slow start essentially doomed the girls in orange. The Lady ‘Dogs battled back fiercely in the second half, taking 20 points out of both the third and fourth quarters, but their rally simply ran out of time.

Overall, however, head coach Jeff Houghtaling and his staff were pleased with the efforts of their athletes in what was a productive pre-Christmas trip.

“It was a really good weekend for us,” Houghtaling said Saturday from the road. “I thought the girls competed hard. We were able to play all the girls the first two nights, and as a whole, it was a really productive trip. The girls learned a lot.

“We traveled well. They handled the hotel well, meals, being together as a team, and that’s a big part of the process at this point in the season – being able to develop the chemistry that’s going to make us a good team when district gets here. We saw three pretty decent teams and got a lot of good experience. We certainly wish we would’ve won today, but overall, we’re pretty pleased.”

Artesia shot lights out Thursday against Academy and had another solid showing from the field Friday in Santa Fe.

“Academy was a good 4A win for us,” said Houghtaling. “We got off the bus well, came out and shot the ball well… I felt like we got the momentum early in that game and were able to take advantage of it and get a good lead on them. I think that gave us some confidence going into Friday night.”

Riddled with turnovers, the first quarter against the Lady Horsemen of St. Michael’s was a low-scoring one, with Artesia jumping out to a 7-0 lead on an opening trey and a jumper by Brehnan Davis, and two from the free-throw line by Paityn Houghtaling.

Two more from the stripe by the senior and a bucket in the paint made it 12-4 Lady Bulldogs going into the second.

The girls in orange were able to settle in both inside and outside the arc from there, however, with two baskets from Davis, one by Houghtaling, a Kyrah Gonzales trey, and a trio of free throws by Estrella Villa making it 24-8 Artesia midway through.

St. Mike’s ended the half on a solid run, using a 7-5 stint and a pair of late three’s by Cia Alvarez to pull back within eight at the break, 29-21, but the Lady ‘Dogs were able to move back up by double digits in the third.

Eight points in the paint by Houghtaling and Gonzales and Makinli Taylor three-pointers sent Artesia into the final eight minutes up by 14, 45-31, and they’d close out strong from there as Houghtaling and Kaylee Wagner controlled the lane and Gonzales the perimeter.

Houghtaling led all scorers on the evening with 21 points, followed by Gonzales with 13, and Alvarez finished with 11 for the Horsemen.

“We didn’t start off as fast against St. Mike’s, but once we got going, I felt pretty good about the way we played,” Coach Houghtaling said. “We shot the ball pretty well. I think both of the first two nights, our defense really kind of led to a lot of offense for us. We were able to get out in transition and get some easy baskets, and those gave us some confidence with our perimeter shooting.

“Today was just kind of the opposite.”

The Lady Bulldogs could establish no rhythm in the first two quarters of play, managing just eight points in the first quarter, 10 in the second.

Still, with Los Alamos posting just 22 of their own, Artesia was down by only four at intermission. Their 20-point showings in the third and fourth quarters would by rights have been enough, had the Lady Hilltoppers not stepped up their offensive game, as well.

“Defensively, we weren’t able to turn (Los Alamos) over as much as we did St. Mike’s and Academy, and as a result, we didn’t get as any easy baskets as we did in the first two games,” Houghtaling said. “We weren’t able to get much in transition at all today, so most of the game was in the half-court.

“We didn’t shoot as well in the first half, but we came out in the second and played a lot better. It just wasn’t enough. We didn’t have enough to close the gap. Los Alamos is pretty good. They’re real big, so we didn’t match up with them very well there, and they were able to take advantage of that. I think their big girl in the paint had 27 points, so we didn’t do a good enough job of slowing her down.”

Despite the loss, Houghtaling was pleased with the way his team rallied, particularly considering the strain of six games in 10 days had begun to set in.

“It wasn’t a bad first half, just slow, but we responded great,” said the coach. “I didn’t feel like we gave up at any time in the first half. It was just one of those things where if you’re not shooting well, you’ve just got to keep shooting. We talked about that at halftime, and we had four or five three’s in the second half where we had none in the first. Our three-point shooting really gave us an edge this weekend, and once we get a little more consistent, it’s going to pay off.

“I think the girls were a little fatigued when they got there today, but they responded well and played hard.”

The girls in orange (4-3) will now have a much-needed two-week break prior to taking to the road again for the Dec. 27-29 Los Lunas Holiday Tournament, and they’ll use the time off wisely.

“The girls are doing what we’re asking them to,” said Houghtaling. “They’re real coachable. It’s a great group, and I think we’re getting better each game. We’re looking forward to a little break here with finals at school, and I think it’s going to be some valuable time to be able to watch film and learn a lot from these games.

“The Los Lunas tournament is a tough one, and we have to open up with Los Lunas, which is a really good team. So this next week-and-a-half will be some real valuable time for us to learn and continue to get better.”