Home Sports Local Sports Artesia Bulldogs come up short against Española

Artesia Bulldogs come up short against Española

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“We’re going to shock the world,” said junior forward Anthony Armendariz during a timeout, after an Artesia 6-0 run. Shocking the world almost, but it takes a full game and then some to defeat the No.1 seed. Española Valley Sundevils had to go deep in overtime to defeat the Bulldogs, 63-59, Thursday night at The Pit.

“They’re No.1 for a reason,” Bulldogs’ coach Michael Mondragon said. “They’re a good basketball team; we knew they weren’t going to quit. At the end of the day, I couldn’t be prouder of the way my guys came out and fought. Nobody gave us a shot. They played well for four-and-a half-quarters.”

Both teams played like it was the last game they would ever play, and it was officiated that way as well. The game became more physical in the third and fourth quarter with both coaches working the referees. Each team had a player foul out, for the Sundevils it was Zach Mascarenas, and for the Bulldogs, Kale Mauritsen early in the fourth quarter.

“We try to have a balance, inside, outside,” Española Valley coach James Branch said. “It was hard to go inside; those guys are pretty big. I don’t want to say anything about the officiating, but doggone, can we get a call? Can we get a call going to the basket? We got hit pretty hard. I think we could have lived at the free-throw line tonight. Our guys never gave up despite the physicality, physicality. That’s a football team, we’re playing basketball. Quote that.”

It didn’t look like coach Branch or his players would have to make those comments by the looks of the first quarter. In that quarter, the Sundevils ran roughshod over the Bulldogs. Artesia had trouble breaking Española Valley’s 1-2-2 press as they committed seven turnovers due to pressure. If it had not been for Artesia, senior Joe Willingham scoring nine points of his game-high 23 points, they would have been blown out. Instead, they trailed 18-12.

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“That’s the way we play,” Mondragon said. “That’s our brand of basketball. We want to get into to you and use our strength and physicality. That’s what we do.”

In the second quarter, it seemed the Bulldogs were getting their basketball legs under them as Chaney Hardt was able to help break the press. Hardt also found his offensive game as he hit a three-pointer before half and scored seven of his team’s 14 points as they trailed at halftime 30-25.

“My coaches teach me to keep shooting,” Artesia guard Chaney Hardt said on missing shots in the first quarter. “My coaches tell me never put my head down because my shot could go both ways. Just to keep shooting until I find my rhythm.”

The game became a tough man contest as the referees let them play. Artesia turned the ball over only eight times in the second half after turning it over 15 times in the first half. In the second half, coach Mondragon made an adjustment on inbounding the ball instead of trying to go side to side once they got over half court. He had them find Taylor Null in the middle and throw him the ball and he either went into the lane and passed it to a teammate or shot a five-footer in the lane.

Artesia (21-9) guard Cody Smith hit a three-ball from the top of the key and scored nine of his 13 points in the third quarter. The game seemed to be wearing on Willingham as he had to come out of the game after making one of his six block shots, as he cramped up. By the end of the quarter, Artesia had Española Valley worried as the game was tied up at 43-43.

In the fourth quarter, both teams matched the other’s intensity, and ended up the quarter in a draw, as both teams scored 10 points. Española Valley had a shot with 15 seconds left when Christian Fernandez took a jumper at the rim that rolled in and out and was grabbed by Null. Artesia had a final shot with 2 seconds left but could not get a shot off.

“Nobody thought we were going to do this, this year,” Mondragon said. “We lost seven seniors and their height. I told them we are going to be scary good because they are coachable, they do whatever we tell them. This is their first district championship in 10 years, and the first state semifinals in 10 years. It’s all because of them. They set a good precedent for the younger class coming up.”

In overtime, both teams were scoreless for the first two minutes until Isaiah Vigil made a long two-pointer as the Sundevils scored six unanswered points. The Bulldogs did not score for three minutes of overtime, and by that time they were down six. After that, Artesia had to foul.

Artesia was led in scoring by Joe Willingham with 23 points, Cody Smith added 15 points. Chaney Hardt put in 11, Taylor Null and Anthony Armendariz each had three points. Kale Mauritsen chipped in with two points.

Española Valley plays Belen at 2 p.m. Saturday for the championship in 5A at The Pit.