Alaska Baseball

Late-inning home runs push Anchorage Glacier Pilots to second straight ABL championship

Anchorage Glacier Pilots' Cole Fontenelle

Xavier Martinez had no room for error.

The Anchorage Glacier Pilots pitcher entered in the top of the eighth inning with two runners on base and a 2-0 count to the batter at the plate.

His team was clinging to 3-2 lead over the Mat-Su Miners in the Top of the World Series championship game Monday.

Martinez threw three straight strikes to get the Glacier Pilots out of the jam. In the bottom of that inning, his teammates connected on three solo home runs to launch Anchorage to a 6-2 win and a second consecutive Alaska Baseball League title.

“I’m just thinking pound of zone,” Martinez said. “I mean, there’s nothing you really can do. You’re down in the count so you can’t really sacrifice any pitches.”

Bringing in a reliever behind in the count isn’t something every manager would do, but Pilots head coach Dave Serrano said a combination of factors led to the decision.

“I’m an unconventional guy,” he said. “Keaton (Fuller) gave us five good outs. I got to the mound and he said, ‘I’m out of gas.’ He said he just couldn’t feel his pitches anymore. So you know, I make that decision. But in fact, if Xavier doesn’t come in and do what he does, It doesn’t make me look good. It’s just about the players and the players were the ones that got it done.”

Mat-Su's Josh Paino

But even after escaping a potentially sticky situation in the top of the eighth, the final result was still very much in question as the Glacier Pilots batted in the bottom of the inning with a one-run lead.

But not for long.

Leading off the eighth, Ali Camarillo blasted a home run to left field. The next batter, Caden Kendle hit one himself, landing it to the left of Camarillo’s shot. After the Miners retired Cole Fontenelle, who had homered for Anchorage in the second inning, another Glacier Pilot went deep. This time it was Tom McCaffrey, whose solo shot made it 6-2.

Serrano said the late-inning heroics demonstrated the type of team the Glacier Pilots evolved into over the short season.

“It kind of exemplified what this team is about,” he said. “It’s about character and teamwork and love — a brotherhood that these guys formed in a two month period of time. And I think that just put an exclamation point on what these guys are all about. We were pushed to the brink. It was a close game and all of a sudden they said ‘Nope, no one’s gonna take it from us.’ ”

Martinez was a starter for much of the ABL season, but was a closer in his freshman season last spring at Cal State Northridge. He said while the run support was nice, he was still focused on his task on the mound.

“I just keep doing my stuff,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, it helped me out, but I can only control what I can control.”

Anchorage Glacier Pilots' Troy Harding

Anchorage led 3-0 entering the middle innings but Mat-Su’s Nick Cirelli smashed a home run to make it 3-2.

The game started a half hour late due to rain and was plagued by delays in the middle as well, as the artificial mound at Mulcahy Stadium was deteriorating to the point it needed repairs. One stoppage to repair the mound lasted over a half hour.

Despite the fact that most players compete in summer leagues for personal growth, Serrano said the Anchorage players were as determined to win a title as a team. The Pilots finished 31-9 while Mat-Su was 28-13 on the season.

“A lot of guys go to summer ball to work on their swings, work on new pitches. They did all that,” Serrano said. But they also want to win too. A lot of guys don’t make that commitment to stay through the whole way. These guys committed about three weeks ago to all stay and finish the job and try to be a champion and they got rewarded for that.”

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.

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