A year ago, the Nutley American Little League 12-year-old All-Stars fell a little short of their quest for a state championship, losing in the Section 2 semifinals after winning the District 8 title.
The head coach of that team, Peter Breihof, never wanted to lose the camaraderie that the young men displayed.
So Breihof decided to keep the core of that team together and sprinkle in a couple of kids from the nearby Nutley East Little League to form a team of 13-and-under players to compete in the Little League Intermediate division.
It’s a league where the bases are 70 feet apart and the pitching mound is 50 feet away from home plate. It’s not as large as the conventional base paths (90 feet), or the pitching mound (60 feet, six inches), but it serves as a developmental league so the participants can strengthen their arms to make the longer throws later on in their baseball lives.
“It also introduces leading on the bases and stealing,” Breihof said. “Those are new things to the kids.”
After the Nutley American team lost last year, Breihof took a combination team (Nutley American and Nutley East) to Cooperstown for a huge tournament.
“We finished 16th out of 104 teams,” Breihof said. “We wanted to keep that team together. The kids are all close friends, all attend John F. Walker Middle School together. They all hang out together and play together.”
So Breihof took this combination team to play in the Intermediate Division. The team won the District 2 title by defeating Clifton in straight games, then defeated Chester-Mendham to win the Section 1 & 2 title.
And last Saturday night, the Nutley American team won the New Jersey Little League Intermediate Division State Championship, defeating Middletown in straight games, 4-1 and 13-2 in Princeton.
It was the same Middletown team that gained fame last year by qualifying for the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., featuring the kid, “Big Al” Delia, who was plastered all over television and the Internet with his bold declaration, “I’m Big Al and I hit dingers.”
Delia was on this team that Nutley American defeated on Saturday night.
The Nutley American 13-and-under All-Stars will now travel to Commack, Long Island Friday to compete in the East Regional. Nutley American will represent New Jersey against state champions from New York, Pennsyvlania, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland and Massachusetts.
“They’re over the moon,” Breihof said. “They’re the first team from Nutley to ever win a state championship (in Little League). The best thing about it is that they’re all friends.”
For example, Breihof set up a batting cage in his backyard.
“We have a program, ‘Swing and Swim,’ where the kids take their swings in the batting cage, then go for a swim in my pool. It’s awesome.”
Leading the Nutley American team is brilliant left-handed pitcher Kevin Jiratatprasot, who has been outstanding in the postseason.
“He’s the best,” Breihof said. “He couldn’t be any better. He throws hard and hits his spots. He has a great curveball. He’s able to make adjustments as the game goes on. He’s learning how to pitch, not just throw. He competes with every batter.”
Breihof pitched six 2/3 innings of no-hit baseball in the win over Chester-Mendham and he pitched five 2/3 innings of shutout ball against Middletown. Jiratatprasot is also a “tremendous hitter,” according to his coach, who hit two home runs in the win over Chester-Mendham. The tall Jiratatprasot will be a superstar come time for high school.
Jonathan Breihof, the coach’s son, is the team’s top relief pitcher.
“He’s the perfect closer because he throws strikes,” the elder Breihof said. “He is able to use all of the plate to get strikes. He’s like a pitching machine.”
Myles Gomez is another right-handed pitcher.
“He’s awesome,” Breihof said. “He’s a kid who would be anyone else’s No. 1. He just keeps getting better. He’s a gamer. He says, ‘Give me the ball and I’ll show you what I can do.’”
Gomez led off both games against Middletown with home runs.
Jake LoMonaco is another right-handed pitcher.
“He’s a strike-throwing machine,” Breihof said. “We use him behind Myles.”
The team’s catcher is Joey Haines.
“He’s been phenomenal for us,” Breihof said. “He’s developed into a real good catcher. He watches the game and knows what pitches to call. He’s the field general back there. He’s also good with his snap throws.”
Haines also hit a monstrous homer against Chester-Mendham that traveled in excess of 260 feet.
“He absolutely crushes the ball,” Breihof said. “We have a very good hitting team.”
Erik Thomspon is the first baseman when Jiratatprasot pitches. When Jiratatprasot is not on the mound, he plays first and Thompson moves over to second base.
“Erik does a great job for us,” Breihof said. “He has a good stick and makes solid plays.”
Rocco DeLitta is the team’s other second baseman.
“Rocco is the kind of kid you want on a team,” Breihof said. “I wish we had a whole team of Roccos. He doesn’t make a mistake. He’s as smooth as silk. He also gives us quality at-bats.”
Gomez and DeLitta share the shortstop duties, depending on who is pitching.
“Myles is so athletic,” Breihof said. “He makes plays in the field that are tremendous.”
LoMonaco and Anthony DiPaolo share the third base duties.
Chris Sarno is the steady left fielder, while Ryan Roque is in centerfield and Breihof, who also hit a homer in the championship round, plays right field.
“Roque goes and gets everything,” Breihof said. “He’s so fast and so instinctual. Jonathan has developed into a solid outfielder and might be the best outfielder on the team.”
Jayden Velez is the backup catcher.
“We’re playing good baseball,” said Breihof, whose team begins play Friday morning. “This all has been awesome. I know I’m enjoying this and I hope the kids are.”
The New Jersey State Intermediate Champions from Nutley American Little League pose with their state banner. From left are Rocco DeLitta, assistant coach Joe Haines, Jake LoMonaco, Joey Haines, Jonathan Breihof, Myles Gomez, Kevin Jiratatprasot, Anthony DiPaolo, Ryan Roque, Eric Thompson, Chris Sarno and head coach Peter Breihof. Photo courtesy of Peter Breihof.
Nutley American pitcher Kevin Jiratatprasot has been brilliant in the state tournament, hurling his team to victories in both the Section 1 &2 and state tournament. Photo courtesy of the Jiratatprasot family.
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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.”