Just six seasons after playing his last baseball season at Tippecanoe Valley High School new Akron and Mentone in Indiana, Jarred Littlejohn became the Vikings head coach for 2021 after two years as junior varsity coach on Greg Prater’s staff. As he prepares for 2022, the former four-year outfielder tells what is important to him while leading the Valley program. “Our biggest thing is to make sure the kids are loose and having fun,” says Littlejohn. “If they’re tight, they’re not going to perform. “On offense, we want to be aggressive and get the pitch we’re looking for. On every pitch, we have an approach. We know we’re not going to be perfect.” And then there’s the moundsmen. “Pitching last year was the best part of our game,” says Littlejohn. “We knew what was working and stayed with it. Work ahead and don’t get behind in the count. “We had a good defense behind us. (Pitchers) knew we could make the plays in the field.” Littlejohn played for three coaches in high school — Ryan Moore his freshmen year, Brandon Cody as a sophomore and junior and Justin Brannock as a senior. “There has not been much stability in the baseball program,” says Littlejohn. “We’re going to try to bring that back.” Assisting Littlejohn, a machinist at Craig Welding & Manufacturing in Mentone, is Anthony Newcomer and Mike Bowers. An IHSAA Limited Contact Period opened Aug. 30 and closes Oct. 16. Littlejohn has been conducting open fields and weightlifting program that has consistently had six to 12 participants. Tippecanoe Valley (enrollment around 570) has many baseball players involved in fall sports. In 2021, there were 26 players taking part in varsity and JV games. The varsity went 12-12. The Vikings are a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with along with Maconaquah, Manchester, North Miami, Northfield, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Wabash and Whitko). Last season, Valley was part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Jimtown, Lakeland, NorthWood, Wawasee and West Noble.The Vikings have won five sectional titles — the last in 2012. Tippecanoe Valley is fed by youth leagues in Akron and Mentone. Those organizations are a part of Town & Country Baseball of Indiana. Tanner Andrews, who is now a pitcher in the Miami Marlins organization, is a 2014 graduate who was selected in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Purdue University. Littlejohn says right-hander Owen Kirchenstien (Class of 2022) is expected to commit to junior college baseball.
When the baseball team at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis took the field in 2019, the Braves had many freshmen in the lineup. Two years later, junior-rich Brebeuf has qualified for the program’s fourth semistate appearance and the first since 2012 when the Maroon and Gold went on to be IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up. The current Braves (20-11) take on Southridge (24-7) in the one-game Jasper Semistate at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 12. The Brebeuf-Southridge winner moves on to the State Finals to play Hanover Central (28-3-1) or Norwell (20-9) either Monday or Tuesday, June 21 or 22 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. “We’re a talented ball club in a lot of ways,” says Jeff Scott, who has been the Braves head coach in two on-field seasons sandwiched around the 2020 campaign lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s not just Andrew Dutkanych.” Dutkanych, a junior right-hander with a fastball that sometimes touches 95 and 96 mph, verbally committed to Vanderbilt University as a freshman. In 2021, he has made 10 mound appearances and is 6-3 with an 0.88 earned run average. He has 108 strikeouts in 56 innings, including 18 in the Marion County championship game against Lawrence North on May 17 at Victory Field. Add junior left-hander Sam Reed (6-4, 1.74 ERA, 12 appearances, 72 K’s, 52 1/3 innings) and Brebeuf has a strong 1-2 punch at the top of its pitching staff. Junior righty A.J. Rinebold (4-1, 3.42 ERA, nine appearances, 28 K’s, 30 2/3 innings) established himself as the Braves’ No. 3 arm in his first varsity season. Two of Brebeuf’s four seniors are NCAA Division I commits — Butler University-bound third baseman Jack Moroknek (.359, 11 home runs, 38 runs batted in) and shortstop Nate Bingman (.358, 2 HR, 21 RBI), a Virginia Military Institute recruit. The Braves have stolen 90 bases in 31 games. “We’ve got a lot of team speed which is very nice,” says Scott. “A lot of those stolen base comes from our outfield.” Junior center fielder Anthony Annee is hitting .347 with 11 RBI, 20 steals and plenty of good glove work. “The kid’s an unbelievable athlete,” says Scott. Annee is flanked by sophomores Jayden Ohmer (.340, 1 HR, 20 RBI, 18 SB) in right and Michael Finelli (.296, 8 SB) in left. There’s also junior catcher Luke Bauer (.341, 0 HR, 16 RBI, 16 SB). Running a gauntlet of tough teams, Brebeuf was 4-5 in its first nine games of 2021 and 2-3 in the five games leading into the Brebeuf Sectional. “We have played a very difficult schedule,” says Scott. “We’ve done that for a reason — to prepare us for the postseason. “Preparation putting us where we’re at.” Scott points out that six teams — Center Grove, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Indianapolis Cathedral, Jasper and Mt. Vernon (Fortville)— playing in 4A regionals June 5 were on the Braves’ slate this spring. Brebeuf is part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Danville, Greencastle, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter and Tri-West Hendricks. In running their all-time sectional title total to 15, the Braves beat Danville 5-0 and Tri-West 15-1. Regional crown No. 4 and a berth in the 3A Final Four came by besting Indianapolis Bishop Chatard 10-0 and Northview 17-2. A member of the Circle City Conference (with Covenant Christian, Guerin Catholic, Heritage Christian, Chatard and Roncalli), Brebeuf has enrollment around 815. CCC schools meet in home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The Braves play home game on-campus at Father O’Brien Field. “We have one of the nicer fields around,” says Scott. “I love our (natural) surface.” Since former Martinsville head coach Scott has taken over at Brebeuf, the program has sent five players into the college baseball ranks — 2019 graduate Sean Swenson (Akron) and Shane Bauer (Dartmouth), Karl Meyer (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Andrew Pickett (Hope College) and Gabe Wright (South Florida State College after a year at IMG Academy in Florida) from the Class of 2020. Shane is the brother of Luke Bauer. Scott’s 2021 assistants are Greencastle High School graduate Wes Neese, Indianapolis North Central alum Joe Perkins, Brebeuf grad Joey Perkins and Staten Island native Eric Hartung. Joey Perkins — son of Joe — played for Scott at Brebeuf and a DePauw University.
Brebeuf won the 2021 Marion County championship May 17 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. The Braves hope to return to that facility for the IHSAA State Finals by winning a Class 3A Jasper Semistate game against Southridge.
A 6-foot-3, 210-pound righty swinger who has started 109 games at Dayton (including 97 at third base the past two seasons with starts at designated hitter, right field, first base and second base as a freshmen in 2018), Tirotta did not get selected in the five-round 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
Citing unfinished business, he decided not to sign a free agent contact with an MLB organization and he’s planning to come back for his senior season in 2021.
“We had a really good team at Dayton this year,” says Tirotta. “We can do a lot of special things. We have a lot of seniors returning. If I do some things individually and we win some games, I can put myself in an even better position (for professional baseball).
“We want to finish what we started.”
As a sophomore, Tirotta led Dayton in hits (59), at-bats (227) and stolen bases (18 in 20 attempts) and tied for the team lead in RBIs (41). He enjoyed 16 multi-hit games.
His freshmen year yielded 27 hits and seven stolen bases while he fielded at a .987 clip.
A past honoree on the dean’s and Atlantic 10 Conference commissioner’s academic lists, Tirotta is on track to earned his Finance degree at Dayton.
At the CSBI, Tirotta played on a team managed by former big league pitcher, Gary, Ind., native and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer LaTroy Hawkins and got to face former high school teammate Nate Thomas and college mate Cole Pletka.
Following workouts prescribed by trainers, including those at Dayton, Tirotta hits the gym five or six times a week. He goes through strength and conditioning moves and does sprint training.
“I use my speed as well as my power,” says Tirotta. “Just being at athlete on the baseball field is one of my biggest strengths.
“I like to use my athleticism a lot. I’m making plays and using my arm strength. I take extra bases when I can and get stolen bases. I’m hitting a few home runs here and there. I’m pretty well-rounded. I’m not a power-only guy.”
Dayton played just 14 games before the 2020 season was halted. Tirotta started cold and finished hot. He wound up hitting .228 (13-of-57) with one homer, one double, 15 RBIs, nine runs, four stolen bases.
He batted fourth in the Flyers’ final game on March 9 at Dayton swept a three-game series against Northern Kentucky.
The previous day, Flyers head coach Jayson King inserted Tirotta in the 3-hole and he went 3-for-6 3-for-6 with a home run, double, three runs batted in and three runs scored.
“I was putting good barrel on the ball and going in a good direction,” says Tirotta. “Then COVID happened.
“(Coach King has) done everything for me. He’s gotten me into the Cape and a lot of good leagues. He gets us where we need to be.”
Tirotta hooked up with the CSL when other collegiate summer leagues were canceled or scaled back for 2020.
He got into 28 games in the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2019 — 19 with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox and nine with the Harwich Mariners. He signed a temporary contract with Y-D and finished with league runner-up Harwich. He supposed to go back to Harwich this summer, but the league canceled its schedule.
He knew he wanted to play summer ball. He was not sure where and then the opportunity came at Grand Park.
“There’s a lot of guys I grew up playing with and against,” says Tirotta, a 2017 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., who played travel ball with the Indiana Bulls his 17U and 18U summers after being with the South Bend Silver Hawks for 15U and 16U and the Michiana Scrappers for 11U through 14U. Coached by his father, he started organized baseball at Southeast Little League in South Bend.
Playing summer ball two times a week in Indiana, Riley also gets to be around parents Mike and Stacy Tirotta and younger brother Jordan (a 2020 Marian graduate who plans to study dentistry at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis).
Sunday nights are for dinners at grandpa Frank Tirotta’s house. It’s not unusual for 40 or more relatives and friends to gather for these weekly feasts or on holidays.
“I have a very close family,” says Tirotta. When pandemic hit that shut down meals with his grandfather — a widower — and visits were kept at a distance. “He was fed up with it and itching to see everybody again.”
Mike Marks has broken bread with the Tirottas. He runs the Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., and has been helping Riley with his swing since Marian coach Joe Turnock and son Josh Turnock recommended him during Tirotta’s freshmen year with the Knights.
“He’s the reason I am a college hitter,” says Tirotta. “I put in a lot of hours with him.
“He’s definitely part of the journey in my baseball career.”
Baseball gears back up again next week. Right now, Tirotta is getting ready to join family for some camping.