Nutley American wins District 8 Little League tourney for second straight year

Peter Breihof has been coaching baseball on a variety of levels for almost three decades now. A former player at Hofstra University and a former coach at Ramapo College, Breihof has seen his share of baseball successes and failures.

But none of Breihof’s past experiences has been as enjoyable as serving as the manager for the Nutley American Little League 12-year-old All-Stars in the recent District 8 and Section 2 tournaments, even though the locals were eliminated from the Section 2 tourney Sunday with a loss to Teaneck Southern, after dropping a first round game to Elmora Youth of Elizabeth.

“It has been so much fun,” Breihof said. “I’ve been coaching most of these kids since they were little. When I talk to them, it’s more about effort than it is about wins and losses. And they give their best every single day.”

Breihof inherited a team that won the District 8 12-year-old All-Star tourney a year ago and came within one inning of advancing to the New Jersey State Little League championships.

Most of that championship team returned this year, so Breihof just had to make sure everything was in place for another District 8 tourney run.

“I think winning last year actually made it more difficult to coach them this year,” said Breihof, who was not the manager of the squad last season. “Everyone was expecting us to win again and all the other teams in the district were looking to knock us off.”

So Breihof made sure the Nutley Americans were poised and ready to defend their title.

“We worked so hard on the fundamentals,” Breihof said. “We worked on situational plays, like what to do when runners are on first and second and no outs or second and third and one out. These kids didn’t commit the common errors made in Little League, like throwing the ball around or throwing the ball away.”

Plus, there was a camaraderie that the Nutley Americans enjoyed, making the team more enjoyable to coach.

“They were always able to pick each other up,” Breihof said. “They’re just a good group of kids.”
Breihof relayed a message to his team on a regular basis.

“I told them that they might only be 12 years old, but they’re making friends for life,” Breihof said. “I’m 46 years old and still some of my closest friends are ones that I played Little League baseball with. So I reminded this team about the opportunity to make memories that will last for the rest of their lives. They’re never going to forget their Little League days.”

The Nutley Americans will remember this season for another reason other than sentimentality. That’s because Breihof’s bunch did successfully defend their District 8 Little League championship, defeating Bloomfield in the title game last week, 3-2, to advance to the Section 2 tourney in Ridgefield with a berth in the state championships on the line.

“The kids have really stepped up,” Breihof said. “Everyone has contributed and that’s the best thing. It’s not all just one kid.”

Breihof also had a well prepared squad, because they practiced four times a week to get ready for the District 8 tourney, which had a different format this year, going to pool play instead of the straight double elimination variety.

“They were 4-0 in pool play, then had to beat the same Bloomfield team twice, which isn’t easy,” Breihof said.

But it certainly helped that the Nutley Americans had Kevin Jiratatprasat on their team. The tall, powerful left-hander merely pitched a perfect game in pool play against rival Livingston to send the Nutley Americans to the championship round against Bloomfield.

Jiratatprasat’s family hails from Thailand and are scheduled to make another trip to Asia later this summer. Of course, Thailand has been in the international headlines recently after the Thai soccer team were trapped in the cave for almost three weeks and had to endure a dramatic rescue to get out.

“I can’t believe how good Kevin has gotten,” Breihof said. “And he keeps getting better and better. He’s always been a dominant pitcher because of his size, but he has become a better pitcher with his composure and demeanor on the mound. He’s more of a pitcher now than a thrower. He is able to make adjustments in the middle of games. He’s just a good kid with a bright future.”
And being a dominant lefty just makes Nutley High School head coach Bob Harbison drool with excitement, knowing that there’s a distinct possibility Jiratatprasat will be a member of the Maroon Raiders’ pitching staff in a couple of years.

The team’s No. 2 pitcher is right-hander Will Jennings, who is equally as talented.

“Will throws the ball hard and he’s good at hitting the corners,” Breihof said. “He is comfortable on the mound and mixes up his pitches well. When he gets the ball, I know he’s going to give me a good effort.”
Jennings threw a complete game victory over Belleville in the District 8 pool play.

The team’s third pitcher is the manager’s son, right-hander Jonathan Breihof.

“Jon is the kind of kid who I know will throw strikes,” said Breihof of his son. “He’s not a dominant pitcher like the other two, but I can count on him when needed. He has figured out how to pitch and throw strikes.”

The catcher is Joey Haines, who remarkably did not catch for his team during the regular season.

“Joey is a natural third baseman,” Breihof said. “But because I needed someone I could trust behind the plate, Joey stepped up. He’s so reliable as our catcher. He’s very good at the mental side of the game.”

First base duties are shared by Jiratatprasat or Jennings, depending upon who is pitching.
Drew Slomkowski is the team’s second baseman and the lone 11-year-old member of the team.

“He does such a solid job at second base and never wants to come out,” the elder Breihof said. “He’s rock solid at second.”
The shortstop is Jayden Martinez.

“Jayden has been great,” Breihof said. “He’s made every single play and has good baseball instincts. He also gives me good at-bats every game. He’s going to get to every ball hit to him and you can’t teach that.”

Josh Dick and Jake LoMonaco equally share the third base duties.

“They’re both solid and make good plays at third,” Breihof said.

Anthony Pinal is the primary left fielder.

“He’s a super athlete,” Breihof said. “He’s new to baseball and he’s new to Nutley. But he’s a big strong kid.”

Pinal is also the team’s second string catcher.

Chris Sarno is another left fielder. Sarno made a phenomenal catch in left field to help preserve Jiratatprasat’s perfecto against Livingston.

“With one out in the sixth (and final) inning, he made a great catch to save the perfect game,” Breihof said.

The centerfielder is Ryan Roque, who roams the entire outfield.

“I said that 70 percent of the world is covered in water,” Breihof said. “The other 30 percent is covered by Ryan Roque. He does a tremendous job.”

The right fielder is Jonathan Breihof, who is usually a centerfielder, but slides over in deference to Roque.

“Between Ryan and Jonathan, they get to almost every ball,” Breihof said.

The team features a host of other reserves like third baseman/outfielder Anthony Nina and backup catcher Jayden Velez.

Needless to say, coaching his son with the Nutley American Little League All-Stars has been more than just a treat for Breihof.

“It’s been the most fun in the world,” Breihof said. “Words can’t describe how much fun.”

Learn more about the writer ...

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”