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‘Dogs improve to 2-0 in district with another comeback win

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The Runnin’ ‘Dog basketball team may still be looking to get off the block a bit better in their District 4-AAAA bouts, but they’ve definitely got a kick down the stretch.

The Artesia boys once again overcame a slow start Tuesday in their first D4 road game of the season in Portales that saw them trailing the Rams at the half, putting the pedal down in the third and fourth quarters to pull away for a 57-45 win.

The victory bumps the Bulldogs (12-8) to 2-0 in district play as they prepare to close out the first round this week against Goddard.

“I’m really pumped about the way we came back and finished on the road,” head coach Michael Mondragon said Wednesday. “It’s tough to play on the road regardless of whether it’s district or non-district, but there’s definitely a little more to it when it’s district.

“Our guys did a good job of correcting some things we didn’t do very well in the first quarter, primarily taking care of the ball, and did a great job finishing out the game in the second half, not only getting the lead but expanding it, getting stops, and doing the things we know we’re capable of doing.”

Jarren Wadkins kicked off Tuesday’s contest with a trey, but from there, the ‘Dogs struggled with protecting the ball, and Portales’ Paxton Culpepper took full advantage. The junior reeled off eight quick points — six of them unanswered — via Bulldog turnovers to quickly put the Rams up 10-3.

Artesia was able to stop the bleeding before quarter’s end, however, with a pair of offensive putbacks by Clay Kincaid, one in the paint from Rickey Armendariz, and a pair from the free-throw line by Diego Wesson tying things up, 11-11.

Another three from Wadkins and putback from Kincaid helped push the ‘Dogs in front in the early goings of the second, 17-13, but a 12-3 run by the Rams put Portales back up at the break, 25-20.

Artesia would step up both its offensive and defensive efforts as the second half began, however, limiting the Rams to 20 points in the third and fourth quarters while racking up 37 of their own.

Two from the stripe by Wesson, a Kincaid layup off the dish from Nye Estrada, an Estrada jumper, and longballs from Charlie Campbell and Wesson combined to put the Bulldogs back in front, 33-32, in the third period, and the boys in orange were able to create some distance with another trey from Wesson and a breakaway layup off the steal by Wadkins.

Culpepper had the final word in the quarter with a shot from beyond the arc, though, trimming the ‘Dogs’ lead back to three, 38-35, heading into the fourth.

An Armendariz offensive putback, two free throws from Estrada, and a drive to the hoop by Wadkins were answered by the Rams in the opening minutes of the quarter to keep Portales within striking distance, 44-40, but from there, Artesia began to pull away for good.

Nine unanswered — courtesy of a pair of baskets by Wesson, a Kincaid layup, and Wadkins’ third trifecta of the night — took the ‘Dogs’ advantage into double digits, 53-40. And while Artesia would finish out the contest from the stripe, going 4-6 with a three-pointer and a bucket from Portales’ Jase Hightower on either end, the scoring burst saw Artesia through, 57-45.

Wesson finished with 17 points to lead the Bulldogs, followed by Wadkins with 16 and Kincaid with 11. Culpepper was high point on the evening with 18.

“We’re 2-0 in district, so we just have to keep rolling and keep taking it one game at a time,” said Mondragon.

First on the list will be the ‘Dogs’ first meeting of the season with Goddard at 7 p.m. Friday at Ground Zero in Roswell. The Rockets are currently 3-17, 0-2, after falling to both Portales (54-46) and Lovington (69-31).

“They’re a little down as far as their record’s concerned, but like I tell everybody, once you get into district, it doesn’t matter,” Mondragon said. “You can take the records and throw them out. We know they’re going to be fired up. They’re fighting to keep their season alive, and playing them at their place is that much more of a challenge.

“But our focus is on us: taking care of the ball, playing great defense, guarding, executing, being consistent — all those things you need to be doing well at this point in the season. We want to see four quarters of complete basketball this time.”

Mondragon also encouraged Artesia fans to make the short trek north to cheer on the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs in what is always a heated district rivalry match-up.

“We just want to continue to thank everybody for supporting us,” said the coach. “It’s really cool when you get texts, emails, phone calls expressing support, and hopefully we’ll have a big crowd up there Friday night at Goddard. It’s a big one — you want to beat Goddard every chance you get, and we have a great opportunity Friday to go compete and try to get through this first round with three big wins.”

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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