The junior, who is averaging 13.6 points per game, went 0 for 9 from the field in the first half but caught fire in the third quarter to lead the Dragons back from their 11-point halftime deficit.
“It was a little frustrating, because our team momentum was down in the first half,” Bender said. “But me finally making some shots in the third quarter got us back into the game and built up our momentum.”
While both coaches said the close, non-league contest was good for their respective teams, they agreed the game wasn’t what mattered most. The teams played to raise money for charity in the name of Connie Wong, an Atholton graduate who died from cancer last August.
Caldwell, who is Glenelg Country’s assistant coach behind head coach Will Harper, led the fundraiser and served as the Dragons’ head coach for the game. Caldwell, an Atholton graduate, played four years of basketball for Julie Reynold’s Raiders.
“It was something that was a great idea,” said Atholton coach Julia Reynold. “Kalere was a player of mine, and I had the privilege of teaching Connie as well.”
Caldwell was close friends with Wong, who was diagnosed with cancer when she was 15 years old. The GCS coach said she starting planning the charity event soon after Wong died last year.
“It was great to see how supportive everyone was,” Caldwell said. “We all supported her, but she would support me, too. She would come to my basketball games. I still remember seeing her in the corner of the bleachers.”
The money that was raised at the game will go to the Ulman Foundation, a nonprofit that raises awareness and money for young adults with cancer and their families. Caldwell and Sgt. 1st Class Juan Gordiano, who leads the JROTC that Wong was a member of, also spoke before the game.
“Right when I found out she passed away, I wanted to think of what I could do to help,” Caldwell said. “I helped with the memorial and made a video, but I wanted to do something for the community, too, and to give back. Even though she didn’t play basketball, that’s why I wanted to tie in the JROTC in it, too.”
The players on both teams warmed up in matching t-shirts with slogans about the charity event, and Bender said taking part in the charity event means a lot to her because she knows how important it is to Caldwell.
“I’ve known coach Kalere for a really long time, and when I found what happened to her friend, it really touched me with what she was doing,” Bender said. “I felt really great to be able to play in this charity event for cancer.”
To open the game, GCS (3-1 IAAM B, 5-4 overall) jumped out to a 10-4 lead, but Atholton (0-4 Howard County, 1-7) then went on a 21-3 run to take a 25-13 lead late in the second half. Sophomore Laila Cowsette led the charge for the Raiders. She finished the game with a career-high 23 points.
“That was awesome,” Reynold said. “As a sophomore, to step up and show that kind of intensity, we need that to carry over to the rest of the team.”
The Dragons shot poorly in the first half and entered halftime down 30-19, but Bender scored 11 straight points to tie the game at 30 apiece midway through the third quarter.
The Dragons took a small lead, but the Raiders went on a 10-0 run to take a 45-38 lead with four minutes left. Several GCS players then made key plays to end the game, as the Dragons ended the game on a 10-1 run. Caroline Haynes made a 3-pointer, Bender made two free throws and Cydney Lisk came up with a big steal in the final minute of the game.
A (0-4, 1-7): L. Cowsette 23, M. Hargrett 8, N. Blair 7, M. McCabe 3, E. Morton 3, A. Barker 2.
Halftime: 30-19, A
OTHER GIRLS SCORES:
Eastern Tech 49, Hammond 46
The Golden Bears dropped a close non-county contest. Hammond led 20-9 midway through the second quarter, but Eastern Tech closed the half on a 13-3 run. The Golden Bears struggled from the charity stripe, making only 8 of 22 from the line. Jocelyn Fogle led the Bears with 17 points and eight rebounds, while Maya Woodson scored her first career double-double (16 points and 12 rebounds.
ET: S. Edmonds 24, M. Simon 15, D. Irizarry 6, B. Kinteh 2, J. Sawyer 1, E. Koller 1.
Ha (2-3, 3-6): J. Fogle 17, M. Woodson 16, K. Brown 4, H. Chambers 4, K. Beahm 2, R. Smoot 2, D. Britt 1.
Halftime: 23-22, Ha
Pallotti 47, River Hill 30
The Hawks fell to the IAAM A Conference team by 17 points. Eleven different Pallotti player scored in the victory. Anhyia Smith led the Hawks with 15 points in the loss.
SVP (2-1, 9-2): L. Russell 8, V. Rideout 7, Lau. Sydnor 6, M. Waleed 6, J. Valentine 4, N. Smith 4, E. Russell 3, J. Hall 3, T. Stangherlin 2, Lar. Sydnor 2, L. Whitaker 2.
RH (5-0, 7-3): A. Smith 15, S. Jackson 7, C. Duffy 6, K. Clark 2.
Halftime: 22-18, SVP
Glenelg Country 68, Archbishop Spalding 67 OT
The Dragons hit a pair of buzzer beaters — a 3-pointer by Noah Batchelor (22 points) to force overtime and then another 3-pointer by Igor Yoka-Bratasz (17 points) to win the game — on the way to edging the Cavaliers in a home A Conference game.
The decisive shot by Yoka-Bratasz came off an out-of-bounds play with .6 seconds left on the clock and Glenelg Country trailing by two. He curled off a screen and then drilled a shot from the top of the key.
Jarod Robinson (15 points) and Jordan Brathwaite (8 points, 9 rebounds) also had big games in the victory for the Dragons. Cam Whitmore led Spalding with 21 points.
Glenelg Country currently sits atop the MIAA A Conference Black Division with a 5-2 league record.
The Hawks earned the non-county win, playing their first game this winter decided by double digits. Elijah Feeney scored a career-high 20 points, including four made 3-pointers, to lead the way for River Hill. Victor McCoy (16) and Ethan Smith (12) also scored in double figures.
The Eagles earned their most lopsided victory of the season so far, cruising past the Falcons in a non-county contest. Joey Sedlacko scored a game-high 13 points, but it was all about balance as Centennial had 10 different players score.
Cameron Grable (7 points) and Sean Lee (6) each came off the bench to register season highs for points.
C (7-2): Sedlacko 13, Baker 11, Hwang 9, Taylor 8, Grable 7, Lee 6, Bonner 6, Woerner 2, Hockersmith 2, Benavides 1.