But he fell two points short in the final as Avon Lake’s Eric Stuczynski outshot Bender 13-12 in the final to take the title.
“Give (Eric) credit, he made enough shots and I didn’t,” Bender said. “I was hoping to repeat but I just didn’t have enough shots in me tonight. I felt great the first round but my shot started to disappear in the finals.”
Each contestant had 75 seconds to shoot five sets of five balls from five different points beyond the 3-point line. The first four balls on the rack counted as one point each and the fifth ball counted as two points.
Bender and Stuczynski led all the contestants after the opening round with 21 and 17 points, respectively. In the final round, the duo went head-to-head on opposite sides of the court. Bender missed his first four shots before hitting four in a row and had five points after his first two racks.
Stuczynski drilled his opening shot before missing his next nine balls. The third rack put Stuczynski right back into it. Bender made his first shot but missed his next four from the top of the arc, while Stuczynski missed his first before draining the final four to tie the round at 6.
Bender hit 3 of 5 shots from the fourth rack while Stuczynski hit 2 of 5, including the final ball, to keep the score tied at 9.
With five balls left for each, Bender connected on the second and fifth ball for three points. Stuczynski drained his first one, missed the next two, hit the fourth to pull within 12-11 and drained the fifth to go ahead 13-12.
“I had no idea where the score was but I knew the last ball was probably a big one,” Stuczynski said. “I thought I was out of it after I missed nine in a row but I kept shooting. Getting those four in a row from the top of the arc was huge.”
There were far more misses than slams in the dunk contest, but when it was all said and done, Clearview’s Gerrell Williams walked away with the title.
“I had no idea what I was going to do,” said Williams, who scored back-to-back 50s in the final two rounds. “It’s not like a game situation where you just do it in the flow of the game. I’m glad I won but I should have put a little more thought into it.”
Williams led after the first round with 40 points and then pulled off a perfect score in the second to secure his place in the finals. Joining him were Matt Gorta (Brookside), Isaiah Walton (Elyria) and Deondre Johnson (Midview). Last year’s champion, Demetrius Walton of Elyria, failed to make a dunk in the first round and only notched a 37 in the second round to fall out of the competition.
In the final round, all the contestants were given 60 seconds to make one dunk. Both Johnson and Walton failed to make a dunk during the allotted time. Gorta’s lone dunk brought a score of 37 from the judges but Williams eclipsed him with a perfect slam that delighted the crowd and the judges alike.
“I’m already thinking about next year,” Williams said. “I’m only a sophomore so I figure I have two more chances to do this. I’m going to come back with something special next year. I like performing in front of the crowd and I hope they liked what they saw.”
Contact Hans Schneider at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.