HAGERMAN — The Goddard Lady Rocket basketball team came ever so close to claiming that elusive district championship as they fell to district rival Artesia 51-47 in a game played at neutral Hagerman High School. The Rockets held a late double-digit lead only to miss five free throws and commit numerous turnovers down the stretch as the Bulldogs came from way back to gain the victory.
The Bulldogs got the game-winner from senior post Kali Crandall who drove the lane to put in the layup and get the foul. Her free throw completed the three-point play and put the Dogs up by three with :11 seconds remaining. A late free throw following a desperation heave wrapped up the district title for Artesia.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times,” stated coach Jared Neighbors. “You know, we lost our focus at the end, but at the end of the day all four of us are still tied for first (in the eyes of the state seeding committee), so we have to do our job this week and we are going to take the positives and focus on those and we are going to take the negatives and fix them for our next match up.”
The game was played following a crazy four-way tie for first place in ultra-competitive district 4-5A. The Rockets had swept the Bulldogs, while Roswell High swept the Rockets, the Bulldogs had swept the Coyotes, and the Lovington squad had won all of their home games while losing all of their road games. The NMAA used point differential to determine the top two teams and ordered the game for the #1 seed in the district tourney and for purposes of crowning the district champ.
The Rockets fell behind early in the contest 7-2, but settled down and played well for the remaining of the opening quarter. The Rockets limited the looks for the Bulldogs’ Graci Puentes – their leading scorer – and kept the turnovers to a minimum.
Eden Wiggins would nail a three to make it 7-5 and Camarynn Villalpando would follow with a deuce to give the Rockets their first lead at 8-7 at the 4:39 mark. Allie French would get a bucket to give the Rockets a 10-9 lead late in the quarter and a lead that they would hold until the aforementioned Crandall hoop at the end of the game.
French would score with :03 seconds remaining off of a nice feed from Wiggins to give the Rockets a 15-11 after the initial quarter.
Both teams would play solid defense in the second quarter as the game would remain close. The Rockets would stretch their lead to 20-13 following another Wiggins hoop, but the Bulldogs would answer with a nice 7-2 run. A final Wiggins basket would make it 23-20 Rockets at the halftime break.
The Rockets would open the second half getting two big three’s from PJ Villareal and Wiggins. Following a Crandall hoop, Wiggins would make two free throws to make it 31-25. Wiggins would finish with 11 points while playing solid defense on the Dogs’ point guards.
Villalpando would then take over as she would get three offensive boards that led to seven points and a 38-27 lead – the first double-digit lead for the Rockets. Villalpando, the district leader in points and rebounds, would finish with a game-high 14 points and a plethora rebounds, both offensively and defensively.
The Bulldogs would cut it to 38-32 at the quarter break as Stacia Martinez would get a deuce and Alexa Riggs would hit a three following a Rocket turnover.
The fourth quarter saw the Bulldogs employing a full-court press in order to get back into the game. The ploy worked as the Rockets – who led 44-34 – started to turn over the ball on repeated possessions.
“We didn’t stop penetrations like we usually do,” said Neighbors. “We got a little (apprehensive) as they tightened up how they were calling it. It kind of scared us and we got into foul trouble and didn’t play as aggressively as we normally do. We just got to fix it and keep going.”
The Rockets would hang on to the lead, but it was obvious that the Bulldogs were slowly stealing the momentum as the Rockets started to miss free throws and throw the ball away. Puentes would make a layup to tie the game at 47-all with :37 seconds to go which led to Crandall’s late hoop for the Bulldog win.
Coach Neighbors was still positive following the heart-breaking loss. “In Philippians 4:8 it says Whatever is True, Whatever is Honorable, Whatever is Just, Whatever is Pure, Whatever is Lovely, Whatever is Commendable – if there is any Excellence or worthy of Praise – think about these things.” Neighbors is explaining that we are commanded to focus our lives – ball players, coaching staff, fans – on things much more important than a basketball game.
The Rockets now have to host the semi-final contest on Thursday against the winner of tonight’s Roswell-Lovington quarterfinal contest. The Bulldogs host the semi-final winner on Saturday.