. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

While the Lady Bulldog basketball team came up just short of the weekend sweep they needed to get back to .500 on the 2019-20 season, the team ultimately got what it wanted out of the three-game run:

experience.

“We started this season with a lack of experience, but we’re getting that now,” head coach Jeff Houghtaling said Saturday from the road. “I’m super pleased with the progress we’re making. I really feel like we’re making strides in the right direction almost every game now – every game, we’re putting another piece in the puzzle.

“I like this point in the season where we’re just playing a lot of games because that’s what we need to get better, and I feel like we really improved again this weekend.”

The Artesia girls got the long weekend started with a 64-33 win over Ruidoso Thursday at Bulldog Pit before heading west to Gadsden and Deming.

An offensive lull to start the second half spelled a 56-36 loss Saturday to the Lady Wildcats, but the Lady ‘Dogs were able to snag a win over Class 5A Gadsden in between, 47-44 on Friday.

The girls in orange got off to a dominant start Thursday at the Pit, using 11 points from senior Elliot Harrison to take an 18-5 lead over Ruidoso into the second.

There, the Lady Bulldogs would better spread their scoring around, with Harrison posting five more but getting help in the form of a Taylin Lopez three and a bucket each from Makinli Taylor, Cora Cox, Kaylee Wagner and Raquel Garcia to lead 35-9 at the break.

With the help of solid defense and 18 subsequent Lady Warrior turnovers in the first half, the Artesia girls were able to hold Ruidoso to just four field goals in the opening quarters, but while the girls in blue would improve their offense in the second half, the Lady ‘Dogs remained in the driver’s seat.

Harrison delivered 12 more points over the course of the final periods and Cox 10 to help the girls in orange cruise to the 31-point victory, 64-33.

Harrison led all scorers with a whopping 28 points on the day, followed by Cox with 12.

Artesia’s bout with 5A Gadsden Friday was a nailbiter throughout, and the Lady Bulldogs showed their tenacity by hanging with the Lady Panthers every step of the way.

The girls in orange took a one-point lead out of the first quarter, 11-10, and would again just edge the home squad in the second, 9-7, to carry a 20-17 into the locker room at the break.

And that three-point advantage would turn out to be crucial.

While the Lady Bulldogs outscored Gadsden 14-10 in the third, the Lady Panthers would turn the tables in the fourth, battling for the upset but ultimately coming up short, 47- 44.

A bit of fatigue may have come back to haunt the Lady ‘Dogs in their final outing Saturday, however, as the Artesia girls went cold from the field in the third quarter, which turned out to be the deciding factor in their 56-36 loss to Deming.

“We kind of took it on the chin in the third,” said Houghtaling.

“We were outscored 33-2 there, and that was definitely the difference in the game. It was a two- or three-point game at the half, but we just couldn’t buy a bucket in the third, and they got hot and hit some three’s.

“We outscored them in the fourth quarter, but it was just too big of a gap. Obviously, we don’t like losing, but we did a lot of good things overall in that game. We executed well, we got a lot of the right shots in the right spots, we just weren’t able to get them in the third. But it was a good game, and I thought our effort was good.

Houghtaling said the weekend was an overall success for the Lady Bulldogs, who travelled well and took care of business with the exception of their hiccup against the Lady Wildcats. The girls in orange (6-7) will now have a day to prepare for another tough test from Class 5A Carlsbad.

“I don’t know if they’ll be the best team we play this year – Cibola and Centennial were really good, too – but they’ll certainly be up there at the top,” said Houghtaling. “We don’t match up with them size-wise. They’re so big inside, so we’re going to have a little bit of trouble with that, but we’ve been getting a lot of quality experience, and I think Tuesday night is another opportunity for more of that.

“If we take care of the ball and hit the shots we need to, I think we have a good chance. They’re definitely not unbeatable, so if we take care of business, I think it’ll be a good game.”

The Lady Bulldogs will open Round One of the Eddy County War series at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, followed by the Bulldogs at 7 p.m.

“We want to congratulate the boys,” Houghtaling said. “It sounds like they had a great weekend in Ruidoso, so we’re proud of those guys, and I think Tuesday is going to be a great night at home.

Carlsbad always does a good job of bringing a crowd, so we want to encourage our fans to come out and watch some good basketball.

“We’re excited. We’re a work in progress, but we’re progressing in the right direction and getting better and better for district.”