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Fans encouraged to turn out for Pack the Pit

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As has been proven several times over the course of the year, an amped-up crowd at already-intimidating Bulldog Pit can make the difference in a tight game for the Bulldog and Lady Bulldog basketball teams.

The “sixth man” is no myth. Particularly in close confines, athletes feed off of the energy of the crowd, and with the District 4-AAAAA Tournament looming, the Artesia squads are hungry for wins in their regular season finales.

It’s Pack the Pit Night, and all Artesia elementary students have been provided free admission, courtesy of Western Bank. Burgers will be grilled. A brand-new Jeep will be given away. And if all of that weren’t incentive enough – Goddard is coming to town.

The Lady ‘Dog varsity will kick the evening off at 5:30 p.m. today, followed by the Bulldogs at 7 p.m., and the community is encouraged to turn out en masse for what promises to be an electrifying evening of basketball.

“I’m excited,” Bulldog head coach Michael Mondragon said today. “It’s going to be a fun environment. It’s our last regular-season district game, it’s Goddard, and you want to beat those guys any chance you get.

“We’re excited to get out there and compete, and hopefully, we can get a win and tie for second in the district.”

“I think Goddard’s a solid team, but I think we can beat them if we play well,” said Lady ‘Dog head coach Jeff Houghtaling. “It’s going to be a great environment with Pack the Pit, the car raffle, the tailgate party, and we want to see the girls come out, play hard, and try to get a win to get a little momentum going into the district tournament next week.”

Both Artesia squads came up short of the Rockets in the teams’ first meetings Feb. 5 at Ground Zero.

The Lady Bulldogs found themselves in a virtually inescapable hole coming out of the first half of their contest after hitting just four field goals in the opening quarters. That helped spot the Lady Rockets a 15-point edge to start the second half, and they won going away, 56-27.

Missed shots and turnovers have been problematic for the Artesia girls in the latter stages of their season, but the team found its rhythm Feb. 12 against Lovington on the road, falling to the Lady Wildcats by six.

“Offensively, I’d just like to see us hit some shots,” Houghtaling said. “We took plenty of good shots last time we played them, we just struggled from the field. But if we put it all together tonight, I like our chances.”

Houghtaling will also be looking for his Lady ‘Dogs to better handle the Lady Rockets’ defensive pressure in order to create additional scoring opportunities.

“I don’t feel like we did a good job of handling their half-court trap last time, so hopefully tonight we’re better prepared and can take care of the ball,” said the coach. “We played primarily man-to-man against them last time, too, and I felt like we did a good job of limiting their three-point shots.

“On the flip side, we let them get to the basket a little too much, so we’re really going to focus on putting both of those things together, trying to run them off the three-point line and also protect the paint, and if we can do that, I think we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, led Goddard through the first half of play Feb. 5. But their 24-17 halftime lead dissolved quickly in the third quarter as the Rocket guards heated up from the perimeter.

Goddard outscored Artesia 24-11 in the third and 18-9 in a fourth quarter that played out predominantly from the free-throw line to come away with a 59-44 win.

“Goddard’s got two really good guards in (Noah) Waide and (LeAnthoney) Harrison, and we have to make sure we keep those kids in check,” Mondragon said. “We also really have to make sure to take care of the ball and play good defense. And we’ve got to attack the rim. We didn’t do a very good job of that at times the last time.

“It’s going to be a fun game. I know the boys are chomping at the bit to go out, compete, and get after Goddard, and we’re going to leave it all on the floor.”

With a victory tonight, the ‘Dogs would even their district mark and earn a tie for the second seed.

Both teams know what it will take to be successful tonight against their district nemeses, and both coaches know what a palpable difference a quality crowd could make.

“We’d sure like to thank all the fans,” said Houghtaling. “We’ve had great attendance at the games, it’s been exciting, and that makes our place a great place for home-court advantage.”

“We definitely want to thank all the people who made this night possible, all the banks for donating tickets and the Sixth-Man Club for the tailgate, and everybody who’s donated,” Mondragon said. “It’s going to be a fun night, and hopefully everybody in Artesia will come out and watch some good basketball and have a fun evening.”

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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