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Lenape star falls in state tennis tournament

WEST WINDSOR, N.J. - Nikola Kocovic didn't get his name into the program as one of the top two finishers in the state singles' tennis tournament.

WEST WINDSOR, N.J. - Nikola Kocovic didn't get his name into the program as one of the top two finishers in the state singles' tennis tournament.

But he dog-eared the page.

"Now Nik knows what it takes to win up here," Lenape coach Tony Guerrera said. "He'll be back."

Kocovic, a Lenape junior, took Ocean Township senior Mike Lampa to the brink in both sets of the semifinals before falling, 7-5, 7-5, yesterday in the indoor courts at the tennis center in Mercer County Park.

The Moorestown doubles team of senior John Pontillo and junior Mike Bass also fell in the semifinals, losing by 6-3, 6-2 to the Westfield team of Graeme Stahl and Scott Bernstein.

"We gave it our all," Pontillo said. "If we hadn't played well, it would be torture for me right now. But we were in every game, in every point."

Pontillo and Bass, the No. 3 seed, finished the season with a 40-1 record. They helped Moorestown to the South Jersey Group 3 title.

They were behind, 5-0, in the second set yesterday but rallied to win two games with the kind of athletic play that marked their partnership.

"We never gave up," Bass said. "But we knew how good they were. They were just too good."

Stahl and Bernstein will face Newark Academy's Grant Schalet and Andre Rivera in today's doubles' final.

"They made shots we've never seen a doubles team make before," Pontillo said of the second-seeded Westfield duo.

Kocovic, the No. 3 seed, held a 4-0 lead in the second set. He also held a 5-2 advantage.

But Lampa, the No. 2 seed who was the runner-up last year to Cherry Hill East's Ravi Yegya-Raman, won five consecutive games to close out the match.

"When I was up 4-0 he just got a burst," Kocovic said. "I got it to 5-2, but then it kind of fell apart."

Guerrera credited Lampa, who will face top-seeded Mike Lippens of Shore Regional in today's final.

"I think Nik got up 4-0 and might have let down a little, saving himself for a third set," Guerrera said. "But that opened the door for Mike. You can't let down against Mike Lampa."

Kocovic, who won the USTA 16-and-under nationals over Memorial Day weekend at the Arthur Ashe tennis complex in Philadelphia, finished his junior season with a 33-1 record. Before yesterday, Kocovic had not lost a set in high school tennis this season.

"It was a great year, Kocovic said. "We really came far as a team."

Kocovic led Lenape to its first sectional title. The Indians defeated Cherry Hill East in the South Jersey finals before losing to Westfield in the state semifinals.

With six of seven players scheduled to return, Lenape hopes to strike deeper in the team tournament next season, Kocovic has the same plan for the singles' tournament.

"Next year Nik will be a senior and he'll have this experience," Guerrera said. "I think it will make a difference for him."

The results

NJSIAA Tennis Tournament

Singles semifinals

Mike Lampa, Ocean Township, def. Nikola Kocovic, Lenape, 7-5, 7-5.

Doubles semifinals

Graeme Stahl and Scott Bernstein, Westfield, def. John Pontillo and Mike Bass, Moorestown, 6-3, 6-2.