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Artesia advances to final four

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Kale Mauritsen maneuvers through Capitol’s Jaguars in hopes to make a successful pass to a teammate Wednesday afternoon at the Dreamstyle Arena in Albuquerque. (Trevier Gonzalez Photo)

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To be a championship team, you must learn to win the close games. One thing the Artesia Bulldogs have learned this season is to finish the task at hand. With nearly every game going down to the last possession in 5A, this game was no different.

In a game that was a game of runs, the Bulldogs had the last run. As senior Chaney Hardt made 7-of-8 free throws and scored a team-high 15 points as Artesia advanced to the final four at The Pit Wednesday with a 65-63 win over the Capital Jaguars.

“We are ready when it comes to shooting free throws,” Hardt said. “Since we lost a game earlier this year because our free throws, we have been working on them at the end of practice when we are tired.”

Capital played without their leading scorer but was led in scoring by the two-headed monster of Tyler Alarid, who scored 30 points, and Enrique Gurule, who added 18 points. Artesia was playing man-to-man defense but late in the fourth quarter, they switched from man-to-man to 2-3 with a little 1-2-2 to speed up the guard of Capital.

“I think that after we lost to Goddard,” Artesia coach Michael Mondragon said, “we realized how good we could be, and we were determined to be the best team we could be this season. We knew that we could not take any days or games off.”

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It worked because it forced Capital into bad shots, the Bulldogs won the game by getting to the loose balls and making their free throws. Senior Taylor Null was a force at both ends on the floor. He came up bigger at the end of the game by going 4-of-6 from the free-throw line while scoring 13 points. Cool ball handling guard Cody Smith added 10 points keeping the pressure off the interior players for the Bulldogs. Artesia held a size advantage on the boards and on the court.

“We practice our free throws every practice,” Null said. “We have a drill where we run if we miss free throws, we run, so that makes us concentrate that much more at the end of the game when we are tired.”

This is coach Mondragon’s first trip to the final four as head coach during his eight-year tenure.

“I told the guys we have unfinished business left,” coach Mondragon said. “We’re going to be prepared and go out and play hard. I think our league has made us ready for the type of games we will play at The Pit. We don’t shy away from playing any teams. Early in the season, we play teams from up north, and our league is very tough.”

Artesia plays the winner of the Española Valley/St. Pius X game at 6:30 p.m. today at The Pit.