It was hard for Giovanni Martinez not to flash his trademark smile after being put on the mound in the fifth inning of a tied game with the bases loaded and nobody out.
He walked off the field five pitches later flashing his pearly whites and the game still knotted at 2.
Martinez’s Houdini act proved to be the pivotal point in Kodiak’s 8-5 Southcentral Conference baseball victory over Soldotna on Friday at Baranof Field.
The sophomore hurler handled the situation like he had been there before.
“I was glad. First varsity game and I didn’t mess up,” Martinez said. “I had to stay serious too. I couldn’t smile or nothing.”
Martinez — brother of former Kodiak pitcher Luis Martinez — appeared in relief in three of Kodiak’s first six games of the season. Friday was the right-handers’ conference debut, and he earned the victory with two innings of work.
“What I like about him is is he is a ballplayer. He thrives in those types of situations, and most of all he throws strikes,” Kodiak coach James Arnold said. “He puts it in play and gives his defense a chance to get him out of a jam.”
Martinez entered the fifth after starting pitcher Brandan Pickett walked the bases loaded.
The first out came on an odd play when catcher Josiah Chya attempted to pick off the lead runner at third. The ball hit the back of the sliding Terrance Slats and bounced into left field.
Left fielder Frank Carlson raced in, picked up the ball and fired a strike to Chya, who tagged Slats out trying to score.
“I saw an opportunity to make a play and I tried my hardest to make that throw,” Carlson said. “Luckily it was accurate.”
Martinez then induced Cody Quelland to hit a ground ball to first baseman Jakob Arnold, who fielded the ball and went home to cut down Tyler Covey attempting to score for the second out.
The inning ended two pitches later when David Rue grounded out to shortstop.
“I was so proud of them all,” Arnold said. “I know we had a couple miscues, but they collected themselves and played solid defense. It just goes back to our focus of playing tight defense.”
Kodiak rode the momentum and plated four in its half of the fifth to take a 6-2 lead.
Carlson lined a one-out, bases-loaded single that scored Jon LeVan, who led the inning off with a walk. An out later, Joe Schactler drilled a two-run single that scored Aaron Hocum and Pickett, who both walked.
Chya capped the scoring with a single that scored Carlson.
Carlson ended with two RBIs and three of Kodiak’s nine hits.
“I’m feeling really confident being the No. 4 batter,” Carlson said. “I’m just trying to hit the ball hard and make solid contact. Everyone on the team seems like they are making contact with the ball, and that is really good.”
Soldotna cut into Kodiak’s lead with three runs in the sixth, but the Bears responded with two in their half of the sixth on a Pickett run-scoring groundout and a passed ball that plated Hocum, who reached on a single.
Jon LeVan closed out the seventh for Kodiak’s third straight victory after starting the year 0-4.
“All around our team is doing good,” Carlson said. “We are practicing hard and it is really showing on the field.”
Kodiak scored all of its runs in the final two innings to register a 15-2 conference win over Soldotna.
The Bears improved to 2-0 in the conference and evened its overall record to 4-4.
Schactler collected three hits and drove in three, while Hocum and Arnold each had a hit and drove in three.
Martinez earned his second win of the weekend, pitching 1 2/3 shutout innings in relief of starter Sam Bennett.
On Thursday, Kodiak hosts Palmer in a conference game.
BEARS 8, STARS 5
Soldotna 010 103 0 — 5 4 2
Kodiak 200 042 x — 8 9 3
Becher, Covey (5) and Rue. Pickett, Martinez (5), LeVan (7) and Chya.
RBI: Soldotna — Covey, Bird, Thompson, Slats. Kodiak — Pickett, Carlson 2, Arnold, Schactler 2, Chya. Three hits: Kodiak — Carlson.
Winning pitcher — Martinez (struck out one, walked three). Losing pitcher — Becher (struck out five, walked three).
BEARS 15, STARS 2
Soldotna 002 00 — 2 1 5
Kodiak 005 (10)x — 15 9 1
Miller, Prior (3), Covey (4), Thompson (4) and Quelland. Bennett, Martinez (3) and Chya.
RBI: Soldotna — Bird, Rue. Kodiak — Hocum 3, Pickett 2, Carlson 3, Arnold 2, Schactler 3, Norton 2. Double: Kodiak — Carlson, Arnold, Schactler. Three hits: Kodiak — Schactler.
Winning pitcher — Martinez (struck out one, walked two). Losing pitcher — Miller (struck out two, walked four).