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Bulldogs take down Coyotes in overtime thriller

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Luke Nelson is fouled by a Roswell defender during the second quarter Tuesday at the Coyote Den. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

The score was tied 50-50 with 19 seconds to play Tuesday when Roswell’s Jasia Reese barreled down the court and put a jumper up and in.

The noise from the Coyote faithful was deafening. It got even louder a few moments later.

Bulldog junior Cody Smith had made the fourth quarter a personal mission. After opening the period with a three-pointer, he’d spent the remainder keeping the ‘Dogs in striking distance against the Class 5A fifth-ranked Coyotes, pulling up for well-placed jumpers, plowing through the lane for layups.

There was essentially no doubt where the ball would land when it left his hand with .5 seconds on the clock. The sizable Artesia contingent erupted. And with that, the Bulldogs and Coyotes were headed to overtime.

On the line? Artesia’s first win over Roswell High since the 2008-09 season.

Joe Willingham won the OT tip, sending Kale Mauritsen into the lane, where he was fouled and proceeded to drain both free throws. 54-52 Artesia.

With both teams in the double bonus, the overtime session essentially played out from the stripe.

Roswell was awarded back-to-back trips, hitting one in each, to reinstate the deadlock. More frustrating for Bulldog fans was the fact those and a subsequent third – in which the Coyotes converted both – resulted in fouls No. 5 for both Taylor Null and Willingham, Artesia’s biggest inside threats, both offensively and on the boards.

The ‘Dogs clearly took that as motivation, with Tyler Greenwood following a Smith free throw with an offensive putback, and Chaney Hardt putting down a pair from the stripe to make it 59-56.

Two Coyote free throws were answered by Hardt, and a bucket by Roswell’s Dylan Tucker saw an in-kind response from Clay Houghtaling off the inbound baseball pass.

With 11 seconds to go, Tucker stepped to the line and delivered both, but with Artesia still maintaining a three-point edge, that could only bring Roswell within one, 63-62. One from the stripe by Houghtaling, therefore, meant the Coyotes would need a trey to win it.

But against the ‘Dogs’ suffocating full-court press, Roswell didn’t get a shot off at all.

As the Artesia players leapt into the air, their crowd roared its approval. The Bulldogs had defeated Roswell for the first time in nearly a decade, 64-62 in overtime.

“I’m just really proud of our guys,” head coach Michael Mondragon said today. “That’s probably, since I’ve been here, the best team win we’ve had. Just a great, great program win, and I’m really excited about the way we came out and battled for four quarters.

“We could’ve easily folded at certain times, but we continued to play hard, continued to compete, continued to guard. That’s how district’s going to be all year long. It’s going to be a battle and a grind, but I’m proud of the guys, and more importantly, we’re excited to be 2-0 in district and sitting in first right now.”

It was anybody’s guess how the evening would progress after the first quarter of play Tuesday, as both squads struggled to ignite their offense.

Hindered by eight turnovers and some open misses, an opening jumper by Greenwood and a Taylor Null shot off the glass with around three minutes to go in the period were all the ‘Dogs could manage, while Roswell performed only slightly better with 10 points and six turnovers.

A pair of buckets in the paint from Willingham and a Null baseline jumper could only keep the ‘Dogs’ deficit under 10 in the second as the Coyotes began to hit from beyond the arc, but Artesia would close out the half with a Greenwood and-one and a Hardt trey at the three-second mark to trail by just four at the break, 21-17.

As the Bulldogs continued to use their defense to keep Roswell off-balance, another three and a jumper by Hardt, a pair of layups from Smith, and a Willingham offensive putback helped them maintain that margin going into the fourth, 32-28.

There, a Smith longball, a jumper and both ends of a one-and-one by Null, and three from the stripe by Mauritsen saw the ‘Dogs within one with four minutes to go, 42-41. Two free throws and three buckets later by Smith, they’d turned the tables, 49-48, and although Roswell would knot things up late, Smith’s jumper gave Artesia a chance to seal the deal in OT.

Heading into that session, Mondragon says, his message to the team was simple: keep up the D.

“I just told them to make sure to keep guarding,” said the coach. “That’s been our motto all year long, keep guarding, keep defending, and the offense will come. I was really pleased with our press, too. I didn’t think we’d be able to turn them over like we did, but our press really bothered them last night.

“We had some guys make some really big free throws, and I just feel like our schedule, what we’ve done all year to this point, helped us finish that game. You look at the Alamo game, we didn’t make our free throws and didn’t finish well. But that game helped us grow up and exposed those weaknesses that we improved on to find a way to win last night. Different guys stepped up, different players came in and made a difference, and it was just great to see.”

Smith finished with 21 points on the night for the ‘Dogs, followed by Hardt with 12 and Null with nine. Tarren Burrola had 24 for the Coyotes.

Artesia (15-6, 2-0) will now prepare to head back to Roswell Friday for a 7 p.m. bout against the Goddard Rockets (11-11, 0-2). Goddard fell to Lovington Tuesday, 65-56, and Roswell High last Friday, 59-47.

“We’ve got a lot of basketball left and a lot of things we still have to work out,” said Mondragon. “We have to stay hungry and humble. We haven’t accomplished our goal yet, so we enjoyed last nigh and now today we’ll go in, start watching film on Goddard, and do what we need to do to improve for a tough game Friday.

“We also just want to thank the crowd. We had a great crowd up there that got behind us, got really loud. We want to thank everybody who came up. It’s a great time right now for Bulldog basketball. The girls are sitting at 2-0, boys at 2-0, and I can’t remember the last time that happened. So we’re just enjoying it and looking forward to what’s coming up.”

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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