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Johntae Rodriguez puts up a short-range jumper through a trio of Los Alamos defenders as Kale Mauritsen (4) keeps an eye out for a rebound during the first half Saturday. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

Saturday afternoon’s bout between the Bulldogs and Los Alamos may have not been the most exciting matchup on paper, but it was a thrill for the boys in orange and their fans all the same – the team’s first home appearance since Dec. 11.

The road warrior ‘Dogs made a grand re-entrance to their stomping grounds, topping the Hilltoppers 61-33 to improve to 7-8 on the season heading into another marathon week.

“I’m just really proud of the way our guys came out and played,” head coach Michael Mondragon said Saturday. “It’s nice to have most of our guys getting healthy again, getting back from injury. We’re still not 100 percent, but we came out and got after them and played pretty good basketball for the most part.”

Artesia got off to a quick start against Los Alamos, scoring nine unanswered on consecutive buckets by Kale Mauritsen, a Johntae Rodriguez three, and a drive to the hoop by Clay Houghtaling.

The ‘Toppers finally got on the board midway through the period on a longball by Luc Chavez, then added a Gavin Campos layup and one from the free-throw line. A basket and a free throw from Jacob Creighton and two from the stripe by Luke Nelson, however, kept the ‘Dogs on top going into the second, 14-6.

Rodriguez put back his own miss to open that period, Mauritsen logged two more layups, and Nelson connected following a spin move in the paint to make it 22-10 with just under four minutes to go in the half. A Houghtaling trey and consecutive buckets by Anthony Armendariz then closed out the opening quarters with the ‘Dogs in front 29-14.

Artesia would hold the Hilltoppers under 10 points once again in the third period while tacking on 18 of their own, five coming off the hand of Mauritsen and four each from Rodriguez and Houghtaling to make it a 27-point affair going into the final eight minutes, 47-20.

Following a three and a jumper by Rodriguez, Los Alamos was able to put together a 9-6 run, but a Chavez three was answered immediately by Cord Cox, and a pair of buckets in the last few seconds could only round out the final for the ‘Toppers, 61-33.

“We were excited to come home,” Mondragon said. “We almost forgot how it feels to play a home game.

“Defensively, I was really happy with the way we guarded for the most part. We really limited their offense, and we also took care of the ball today. We didn’t turn it over as much, so we’re seeing a lot of improvement. But we still have a lot of work to do moving forward.”

Rodriguez led all scorers on the day with 14 points, followed by Mauritsen with 13. Campos had nine for Los Alamos.

Mondragon says he’s pleased with the way the ‘Dogs are finally coming around defensively and hopes to see them combine that with more consistent offense as the team moves forward.

“We’re really starting to buy in to playing team defense,” said the coach. “We’re still not consistent enough with it, but we’re getting there, and we’re starting to understand the philosophy and understand that if we’re going to be successful and make a run, we’ve got to play defense and got to guard.

“At times, we look very god on offense, but we still need more consistency there, too. Executing on offense, playing better defense, and taking care of the ball are three things we’ve really been focusing on, so we’re going to be looking for more of that this week.”

The Artesia boys will get back on the road Tuesday for a 5:30 p.m. game against Chaparral but will return to the Pit Friday and Saturday to join the Lady Bulldogs in hosting Carlsbad for the 2018-19 Basketball Homecoming game before taking on Santa Teresa at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

“We just want to continue to get our guys healthy, get over this bug that’s going around, and get these injuries healed so we can be full strength come district,” said Mondragon. “It’s going to be a good week, we’re looking at three great games, so we’re going to enjoy this one today and then get back to work on Monday to get ready for Chaparral.”