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We Meet Again: Artesia teams ready to take on Goddard with district titles on line

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It’s been a long time since both Artesia High School basketball programs have experienced such success in District 4 play.

After completing sweeps of Roswell High Tuesday at Bulldog Pit, the Bulldogs’ and Lady Bulldogs’ D4 marks are on the plus side. The boys are currently in the lead, the girls tied for their share of it. District championships and top tournament seeds are on the line tonight. Potential playoff rankings, as well.

And Goddard is coming to town.

If ever there has been ample reason to Pack the Pit, Big Orange fans have it tonight.

“I’m just really excited about it,” Lady ‘Dog head coach Jeff Houghtaling said today. “I think it’s going to be a good game. Goddard’s coming off a big win over Lovington, we’re coming off our win over Roswell, and I’m excited about the opportunity that we have.

“A lot of things can happen. District’s really taken some crazy turns this year, and there are about 10 different things in terms of ties and different scenarios that could happen, but our goal is just to try to win tonight, play as good as we can, and let the chips fall where they may. We can’t control that other game, but we can control what we do.”

The “other game” taking place tonight between Lovington and Roswell will have an effect on how things shake out in regular-season district play, but the Lady ‘Dogs (14-11, 3-2), as Houghtaling pointed out, need only focus on one thing: beating the Lady Rockets.

They came up agonizingly short of that goal Feb. 2 on the road. After leading Goddard through the biggest part of the contest, Artesia managed just three points in overtime en route to a 60-49 loss. Since then, the Lady Rockets (14-11, 2-3) came up short of Roswell High Feb. 9 (31-30) before trouncing Lovington Tuesday, 50-32.

“If we shoot the ball with some confidence tonight and play well on the defensive end, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win,” said Houghtaling. “And if we do that, good things will happen for us in terms of district tournament seeding.”

Houghtaling says his athletes are channeling the frustrating end to the teams’ last meeting into motivation tonight.

“I don’t know when the last time Artesia won a district girls’ basketball championship was, if they ever have, so we’re kind of using that to get us motivated,” said the coach. “The group of kids we have this year has a lot of winning experience in other sports. They’ve been very successful in volleyball, softball, track, and I think they’re excited about the chance to be pretty successful in basketball, too.

“Our seniors are playing well right now. They’re doing a fine job of leading the underclassmen. And in the end, like I keep telling them, success isn’t always measured on the scoreboard. The kids have really come a long way from a team that three years ago only won four games to a team with a chance to win district tonight, and that’s pretty exciting and, in our minds, pretty successful.”

The Lady Bulldogs will tip off at 5:30 p.m.

“We’re looking forward to a big crowd, and I hope everybody can make it out. It should be a good game.”

The Bulldogs will also be looking to overcome the bitter pill that was their last meeting with the Rockets.

The Artesia boys (17-7, 4-1) were also in the driver’s seat through the majority of that bout but struggled offensively in the second half, allowing Goddard to slip by in the final seconds, 38-37.

Head coach Michael Mondragon says the letdown was more mental than anything, and he’ll be looking for his athletes to correct that problem tonight.

“We might make some changes with some things defensively here and there, but mostly, we just have to make sure we rebound and play good defense, because we didn’t do those two things very well last night,” said the coach. “We also need to put two halves together and make sure we execute, set good screens, all the things that allowed us to be the No. 1 seed right now in the district.”

The Rockets (12-13, 1-4) will be coming off back-to-back losses, having been thumped by Roswell High Feb. 9, 84-47, and edged by a point, 60-59, by Lovington Tuesday.

“We’re at home, it’s the last regular-season game, and we know what’s on the line,” said Mondragon. “We need to make sure we secure that first seed and get to host the district tournament championship, and to do that, we have to come out with a little fire, come out with some energy.

“I know we didn’t play very well last time, so we’ve got to let that motivate us a little bit. The boys are ready, though. They’re excited, we had a good day of practice yesterday, and now they just have to come out and compete for four quarters.”

The Bulldogs will tip off at 7 p.m. today, and Mondragon also reminds the public the Sixth Man Club will be conducting its hamburger fry from 4-7 p.m. outside the Pit and the Booster Club’s drawing for a car will take place tonight.

“I just want to encourage everybody reading this to come out tonight and support these guys and girls,” said the coach. “We’ve got two really big games tonight. I don’t remember the last time both of us were playing home games to determine the No. 1 seeds, so we’re really excited.

“It’s been a great year so far for Bulldog basketball, and we want to have a great finish to the regular season tonight. A great home crowd and all that energy that comes with it would really help us, and we want to continue to thank everybody who supports these teams.”

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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