“It’s always hard to beat a team three times,” Bulldog head coach Michael Mondragon said this morning.
That’s an issue teams in the southern districts have been battling for years now. On a merry-go-round with a handful of teams, two matchups with each during the regular district season is followed by potential thirds when the district tournament rolls around. And this on top of the fact the squads can find themselves squaring off in regular-season tournaments, as was the case this year for the ‘Dogs and Goddard in December.
The addition of Lovington to District 4-AAAAA helped break up some of the monotony, but it’s still rough to keep athletes motivated to compete against the same opponent multiple times in such a short span.
But Mondragon and his assistants have been working since their regular-season finale win over Goddard Friday to make sure the boys in orange know their focus can’t slip tonight as they open the D4 Tourney against Lovington at 7 p.m. at Bulldog Pit.
“We’ve been preaching that to our guys this week,” the coach said. “(Lovington’s) fighting for their lives right now. They have to win district to get to state, and they’re going to do whatever they have to do to try to get a win tonight.
“We just have to match their energy, come out and try to jump on them right away.”
The Lady Bulldogs will be seeking a similarly powerful start tonight in their 7 p.m. district tourney opener on the road at Lovington.
Having improved from one game to the next in their previous matchups against the Lady Wildcats, head coach Jeff Houghtaling is confident his girls know what it will take to come out on the winning end this time around.
“We’ve gotten closer to them each time we’ve played, and I definitely feel more confident tonight than I did the first two times, and I think the girls do, too,” Houghtaling said. “I feel like we have a real specific game plan after watching the other two games.”
Lady ‘Cats Myra Salazar and Addy Jeter did the bulk of the scoring for Lovington Jan. 29 at Bulldog Pit. The Artesia girls were successful in limiting Jeter in the paint Feb. 12, with Salazar matching her previous total of 15 points from the perimeter.
“I think we have a good idea of how we’re going to play them on defense to try to slow down some of their scoring tonight,” Houghtaling said.
On the other end of the court, the Lady Bulldogs had their best offensive showing of the district season Feb. 12 in Lovington and will be looking for more of the same tonight.
“Offensively, I feel a little more confident about what Lovington is going to do,” said Houghtaling. “The first time, they played zone, and we were expecting that the second time, but they came out playing man. I think they’re going to come out playing more man-to-man tonight, so we’ll be more prepared for that this time.
“I think the girls feel good about this game, and they really want to play another. So if we can get past them tonight, we’re excited about the chance to go play Goddard against Thursday.”
In the Bulldogs’ and Wildcats’ first bout Jan. 29 at the Pit, it took one session of overtime and a long three-pointer at the buzzer for Artesia to come away with a 61-58 win. The ‘Dogs fared better Feb. 12 on the road, pulling away from the ‘Cats in the final moments of a close contest, 51-41.
With the fundamentals learned, and the opponent well-studied, Artesia’s goal tonight will be to put their hard work into effect.
“We just really want to execute everything we’ve been working on and show the growth we’ve had and all the things we’ve practiced,” Mondragon said. “This time of year, you’ve only got one guaranteed game left, so we just want to come out and fight to make it our best home game of the year since it’s our last home game.”
As was the case in the ‘Dogs’ first meeting with Lovington and their Pack the Pit Night showdown with Goddard Friday, Mondragon is also hoping to see another healthy crowd on hand to help give his squad the energy it will need to be successful.
“We want to continue to thank everybody in Artesia who’s supported us, and hopefully we can have the best crowd of the year tonight for our last home game,” said the coach. “We need to get the train rolling and get hot at the right time, and I really feel like that’s what we’ve been doing.
“We’re playing our best basketball right now, and hopefully with a good crowd behind us we can go out, play four good quarters of basketball, and get this win.”