Published: 1:24 pm, Sun. Dec. 30th, 2018Updated: 1:22 pm
The final two days of the 2018 Poe Corn Invitational felt a bit like Old Home Week for the Runnin’ ‘Dog basketball team.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a pleasant reunion.
After edging newly-Class 5A Farmington in the tournament’s first round Thursday, the Bulldogs found themselves squaring off against longtime-district-rival-turned-5A-squad Roswell High Friday evening in the Coyote Den.
And although the ‘Dogs were able to stay within striking distance of the boys in red through the first half of play, things went downhill quickly in the second en route to a 97-64 loss.
That dropped Artesia into the third-place game, where they headed across town to Ground Zero for a District 4-AAAA preview against still-intact-rival Goddard. The meeting turned out to be equally frustrating, as despite seeming poised to take control at several points throughout the game, the boys in orange couldn’t get over the hump, falling to the Rockets by a final of 58-51.
“I just thought we came out in the first half really flat,” head coach Michael Mondragon said following the bout. “We had no energy on offense, no energy on defense, we turned the ball over way too much – a lot of things that were uncharacteristic of us.
“We just didn’t play well, but sometimes that happens.”
Artesia got off to a strong enough start in the contest, drawing first blood on a bucket by Kale Mauritsen, then taking a 7-4 lead on a Josiah Sarinana jumper and a Luke Nelson and-one.
Goddard’s 6’5” Derek Carrica was able to catch the ‘Dogs off guard in the paint a few times to put the Rockets in front by one, but a pair of consecutive breakaway layups from sophomore Johntae Rodriguez kept Artesia in the lead late.
An 8-0 run in the final minute by the boys in blue, however, turned the tables going into the second, 16-11.
The Bulldogs struggled mightily on offense in the ensuing period, managing just seven points, five of those coming in the first four minutes of play on a Luke Nelson three and an offensive putback by Rodriguez.
With Goddard’s Brandon Montanez dropping a few bombs from beyond the arc, the Rockets were able to bump their lead into double digits at the break, 28-18.
The ‘Dogs cut down a bit on the turnovers that plagued them in the opening half as the third quarter began, and senior Cody Smith went on a tear to start the period, posting nine points to trim Artesia’s deficit back to five with around three minutes to go, 34-29.
Rodriguez answered a Jonah Chavez three-pointer with one of his own to help keep the Bulldogs in striking distance, and after outscoring Goddard 15-13, Artesia trailed by just eight, 41-33, heading into the final period.
With the Rockets in the bonus, however, fouls gave Goddard opportunities to tack points to their total intermittently throughout the fourth quarter.
A hard drive to the hoop by Smith and both ends of a one-and-one, combined with consecutive baskets from Mauritsen and Rodriguez, made it a three-point game, 44-41, with just under four minutes to go. But Carrica was left wide open twice under the basket, Chavez added three from the stripe, and Montanez drove to the rim untouched as the game fell under 40 seconds to widen the gap back to nine, 54-45.
Smith and Clay Houghtaling both posted a bucket and a free throw in the final seconds of play, but a 4-4 free-throw showing from Montanez preserved the Rockets’ win, 58-51.
“One of the good things coming out of today was that we really challenged our guys at halftime to focus on a few things here and there, and we played a lot better in the second half,” Mondragon said. “But at the most crucial times, we’re not getting that location on defense. We’re not taking care of the ball when making easy passes, we’re not finishing inside.
“There are a lot of things we need to fix, but they’re things we can fix. We’re a better basketball team than we showed today. I think overall, we played well all weekend. We just weren’t as mentally sharp as we need to be. But like we told the guys, we don’t want to be playing our best basketball in December. It’s just going to take some practice time.”
Smith posted 16 points for Artesia against Goddard, followed by Rodriguez with 15, while Montanez led all scorers with 25.
Smith also led the way for Artesia Friday against Roswell with 18, and Rodriguez had 10. Tarren Burrola took top honors for the Coyotes with 30, followed by younger brother Taymon Burrola with 20.
Down by just four, 15-11, midway through the first quarter of that contest, the Bulldogs fell victim to a three-point-laden 14-4 run in the final minutes that put Roswell up 29-15 heading into the second.
There, however, the ‘Dogs were able to do some damage of their own, with Smith logging seven points, Houghtaling posting a basket and a three, and both Rodriguez and Cord Cox going 4-4 at the line to keep Artesia within nine, 52-43, at the half.
The Coyotes took advantage in the third as the ‘Dogs continued to struggle with turnovers, however, outscoring Artesia 20-13 to lead 72-56 going into the fourth, and Artesia’s ball-handling woes helped limit them to just eight points in the final period as Roswell cruised to the 97-64 win.
With the pair of losses, the Bulldogs drop to .500 on the season, 5-5, as they prepare to head north for another tournament gamut Thursday through Saturday in Gallup. They’ll open at 2:30 p.m. Thursday with Miyamura.
“We’ll get three good days of practice and then here we go again,” Mondragon said. “Like we told the guys today, our schedule’s brutal. If you look at MaxPreps, we’ve got one of the toughest schedules in the state, and that’s what we look forward to all year long. It really battle tests us and helps us get better.
“Right now, we’ve won some big games and lost some big games, but we can’t worry about that part of it. We just need to work on getting back to the fundamentals – taking care of the ball, playing better defense, and just execution. If you take care of the little things, the little things are going to take care of you.”
Mondragon says the ‘Dogs will be looking for a challenge from the Patriots Thursday, and he’ll be hoping to see his squad buckle down and cure what ailed them this weekend.
“Miyamura’s a scrappy 4A team, and they have some good wins,” said the coach. “But we just need to come out and play Bulldog basketball. I think one thing we’ve been doing lately is we’ve gotten to the point where we’re looking at who we’re playing sometimes, starting to drink our own Kool-Aid, and you can’t do that. We have to focus on what we need to do.
“We want to thank everybody who came out this weekend to support us. We had a great crowd today. Unfortunately, we didn’t play very well, but I’m proud of our guys. They’re sacrificing a lot. A lot of kids are doing other things, but these kids are getting in the gym, getting in the film room, and working to get better. Sometimes you get humbled, and we had a big piece of humble pie today, but we’re going to improve, and I know our guys are going to take these challenges and grow from them.”