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Artesia hoopsters looking for D4 title sweep

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The Artesia High School basketball programs have gotten a small zoo’s worth of monkeys off their backs over the course of the 2017-18 season.

But they’re by no means finished yet.

The Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs will have the opportunity this weekend to add a pair of District 4-AAAAA Tournament championships to their haul, an eventuality that would crown them undisputed champs after already locking up regular-season district-title wins.

And while higher seeds in the upcoming Class 5A state playoffs were also secured by their “second season” D4 victories, the boys and girls in orange could improve their seeding further still with a tourney trophy.

It all starts at 6 p.m. today when the now-incredibly-familiar Lady Rockets of Goddard come to town for what will be the fourth meeting this month between them and the Lady ‘Dogs (15-12, 4-3).

“We’re just going to come out and play hard,” head coach Jeff Houghtaling said. “This will be the fourth time we’ve played them, so there aren’t a lot of mysteries left. I feel like they know what we’re going to try and we know what they’re going to try – it’s going to come down to execution.

“To me, it seems like the team that shoots the best usually wins, so we’re hoping to have a good night of shooting, and if we can put that together, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win.”

The girls in blue improved to 16-12, 4-4 on the season Thursday night with a 33-28 edging of the Roswell High Lady Coyotes.

“I think our girls are well-rested and ready to play, and I think that’s probably one of the biggest advantages of getting to wait for this game is that we got a couple days off,” Houghtaling said. “This will be Goddard’s third game this week and only our second, so hopefully we’re a little fresher than they are.

“If we play hard and compete, maybe towards the end of the game fatigue might creep in on them a little bit more so than us, and that could help us, as well.”

The Lady Bulldogs will be looking to take what worked well in their 50-47 win over Goddard Monday and fine-tune it on their home court.

“We’re excited to be playing,” said Houghtaling. “I’ve been at it quite some time now, 10 or 11 years, and we’ve never been in this spot. We’ve played in district championship games a few times but not by waiting for the tournament to come to us, so that’s been nice. We were able to watch both games this week, and now we’re looking forward to our turn.

“We’re sure appreciate of all the support we’ve gotten this year, and I think we’ll have another great crowd tonight. We want to wish the boys good luck tomorrow, as well.”

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, will be awaiting an opponent not many foresaw Saturday, as the Lovington Wildcats (14-14) upset the second-seeded Coyotes of Roswell High 69-68 in overtime Thursday in the Coyote Den.

Artesia’s first meeting with Lovington Jan. 26 was similarly tight, with the ‘Dogs pulling out a 40-39 victory, but the boys in orange showed improvement Feb. 9 on the road, topping the ‘Cats 59-44.

“We just need to go out and play Bulldog basketball,” head coach Michael Mondragon said. “We’ve had a good week of practice, we should be rested, and the guys are excited to be able to host the district championship in our gym.

“After four days of practice, you start getting anxious and ready to strap it up against somebody else, so the guys are ready to get to work.”

Mondragon says unyielding defense and patient offense will be key for his athletes Saturday.

“We want to go out there and play confidently, play loose, and make sure we defend, because Lovington does such a good job of getting out in transition and running,” said the coach. “We have to make sure we guard them, and then on offense, we just need to execute. That’s something we’ve really worked on all week, along with the fundamentals like rebounding and taking care of the ball.

“These guys are so coachable, and they play so well together. They share the ball, they play for each other, they’re constantly communicating, and if we continue to do that, we’re going to be a hard team to beat at any level. This is a real cohesive group, and they’re ready to come out and play with a lot of energy and fire.”

Mondragon says he hopes to see Bulldog Pit packed once again as the Artesia squads work to continue their most successful seasons in years.

“We haven’t won a district championship in a long time, and we know it’s right there in our grasp,” he said. “We just have to play four quarters of good basketball, and we’re definitely up for the challenge.

“I just want to encourage everybody to come out. Let’s make it a home-court advantage, fill up that gym, and get behind these boys. It’s definitely going to be exciting for these seniors to play for a title on their home floor, and we want to see a huge crowd out supporting Bulldog basketball.”

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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