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Cokrlija brothers fall in D-11 quarters

Bayto and Bekim Cokrlija were more than just hopeful.

They were confident.

Confident in their abilities, their teamwork and the training they had done.

And it showed.

The brothers from Lehighton came together Thursday for the District 11 Class 2A doubles tournament, where they reached the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.

While the result wasn’t the outcome they had hoped - or worked for - it was one that showcased the desire and determination from the duo.

“It’s their main focus, to play tennis,” said Indians’ head coach Cody Schuler. “They’re out there every day and night. I was chatting with them and asked if they were playing this weekend and they said, ‘Yeah, we were playing on Sunday. Then we got bored, so we went out again.’

“It’s just always on their mind, to get better and to improve their game. It’s just the kind of kids they are.”

After rolling past Salisbury’s Han Kloosterman and Ian Young 6-1, 6-3 in the first round, Bayto and Bekim Cokrlija - who were seeded seventh - ran into Allentown Central Catholic’s Tim Spinosa and Michael Zeller for the second straight year in the quarters.

Spinosa and Zeller, the second seed, took the first set 6-2 before the Cokrlija brothers rallied.

Bayto and Bekim took the second set 7-5, and carried that momentum into the third, where they built a 4-1 lead.

But Spinosa and Zeller managed to turn the tide, storming back to take a 5-4 lead. The Cokrlija brothers tied it at 5-5, but Spinosa and Zeller were able to finish off the set 7-5 to advance to the semifinals.

“They still had that chance, all the way up until the end,” Schuler said of the match. “It was just tough after that. It was such a fun match to watch, though. It was the last match going on, everyone watching it. It was fun to watch, and even though it didn’t go our way, it was a great time.”

And it’s been a great season for Bayto, Bekim and the Lehighton tennis program.

Bayto earned the eighth seed and advanced to the quarterfinals of the District 11 Class 2A singles tournament. Not including the postseason, Bayto posted an 11-0 mark, while Bekim - who also qualified for the singles tournament earlier this week - was 10-1.

“Their confidence is just outstanding, and they deserve that confidence because they are such great players,” said Schuler. “They’re going into every match thinking, ‘This is our match.’ And that’s great.”

As a team, the Tribe - who had 22 players this season - went 9-3 and will be competing in the District 11 2A team tournament next week.

“I love coaching tennis, because the kids are always just wonderful,” said Schuler. “They’re just nice to everyone, and they’re all-around great kids.

“And Bayto and Bekim are a big part of it. They bring people out. Their friends want to be a part of it, and learn how to play, and it’s awesome.”

In Class 3A, Pleasant Valley’s John Hargrave and Noah Dolan fell to No. 3 seed Noah Rodburg and Luke Braido of Freedom in the first round, 6-1, 6-3.

“They didn’t have an opportunity to play a lot of doubles together, and that was my big concern going in,” said Bears’ coach Laura Ammermann. “But in the couple of doubles matches that they had, they were 1-2, but they were against some tough teams when we had to play that tiebreaker. They didn’t really have an opportunity to play doubles together.

“But when they get on the court, because they are great teammates and they get along, they talk to each other, they play pretty well together. They were just happy to be there. They knew they had the No. 3 seed, and they knew going in it was going to be a tough match. But they were just happy to be there. When one of the Freedom kids was serving - he had a really tough serve - but they put everything into it, and they were just happy to be there.”

Hargrave, a freshman, also qualified for the district singles tournament in Class 3A earlier this week. This is Hargrave’s first year playing tennis competitively.

“His brother had played for me a couple years ago,” said Ammermann. “He used to come over from baseball and see his brother at the court and he would pick up a racket. I said, ‘John, you have to put down those bats and those cleats and you have to come out here and play for us.’

“He played baseball in eighth grade and decided to do tennis in ninth grade, and he kind of bumped everybody in the lineup down, and took the first singles spot. He’s going to be one to watch the next couple of years, that’s for sure.”


... Both Lehighton and Pleasant Valley qualified for next week’s District 11 team tournament. The Indians are sixth in the Class 2A power rankings and will travel to No. 3 Allentown Central Catholic, which is 13-4, on Monday. The Bears, who are 9-7 and seventh in the Class 3A power rankings, will face No. 2 Parkland, which is 13-2, on Monday.


... Bayto and Bekim took the first set from Zeller and Spinosa last season in the quarters, before falling 3-6, 6-0, 6-0. The doubles tournament concludes today with semis and finals at Freedom.

The Cokrlija brothers, Bayto and Bekim, take a breather during Thursday's District 11 doubles tournament. The two won their first match before falling in the quarterfinals. NANCY SCHOLZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS