As soon as it was officially over, Paul Mainieri ran out to the pitcher’s mound.
There knelt Devin Fontenot, his head in his hands. Mainieri had to let him know it wasn’t his fault. Quite the opposite.
Devin Fontenot gave the performance of a lifetime, throwing 6.1 innings of relief where he allowed a single run on two hits and two walks while striking out 11. He walked into a game that LSU trailed 4-2 and was the pitcher when they tied it in the 8th. He was the pitcher when the game went into extra innings and finished with 96 pitches.
“That performance from Devin Fontenot...if we had won the ballgame we’d be talking about it 15 years from now,” Mainieri said. “He gave everything he had for our team. I’m so proud of how far Devin has come. I’m excited about his future as we go forward...the kid threw his heart out, pitched almost 100 pitches, he was devastated. I know how Devin is, he feels like he lost the game for our team and I didn’t want him to feel that way. I didn’t want to see the kid out there by himself.”
“Devin competed as much as he could,” Josh Smith added. “It was one of the best relief performances I’ve ever seen a kid give. He’s competed like that all year. He’s struggled at times but for him to come in and do that tells you what kind of kid he is and what kind of team this is. Credit them, but Devin was awesome tonight.”
In any other context, it’s a line to marvel at. If he threw the first pitch of the game it would be defined as a quality start and a damn impressive one at that. But he couldn’t get the support needed from the offense and that one run, coming off his first two hits allowed, is ultimately what ended the game and sent the Seminoles to Omaha.
The trouble began when Fontenot gave up the first hit of his outing in the 12th inning, a one-out single to Salvatore. A passed ball moved him into scoring position, where he scored the game-winning run on a single from Drew Mendoza.
There was some debate as to whether or not LSU should have pitched to Mendoza, who was slugging .625, with first base open. Hindsight is 20/20, but Mainieri had sound reasoning for electing to pitch to Mendoza.
“I thought about it,” Mainieri said. “I thought about it hard. Mendoza had 69 strikeouts, we thought the next hitter (Robby) Martin was more of a contact hitter, I thought we could throw the fastball by Mendoza. And we did a couple of times, but with two strikes he was able to get the bat on the ball. But he’s a home run threat and great ball player, we had to kind of pick our poison. The guy behind him was hitting .338 and has as many RBI and fewer strikeouts. I didn’t know how much Devin had left in the tank. If we put him on and Devin doesn’t throw strikes to the next guy and all of a sudden the bases are loaded. Then do I bring in a new guy and a fresh arm and lose the game on a bases loaded walk. I didn’t want it to get into that. I figured if they were going to win it, they were going to earn it. And they did.”
Florida State broke the game open with three runs in the bottom of the second, all kickstarted by a leadoff walk to Robby Martin. JC Flowers bunted Martin over, but Landon Marceaux’s foot slid trying to field the ball and couldn’t get a throw down to first. Carter Smith then singled to load the bases with no outs.
It seemed like LSU would have a way out of the jam when Tim Becker grounded out to first base. Cade Beloso fielded the ball, stepped on first then fired home to Saul Garza. Garza applied the tag, but after doing so the ball squirted out of his glove, leading to a call of safe after a quick conference. Things snowballed from there, as the Seminoles picked up two runs off singles from Matheu Nelson and Mike Salvatore.
LSU reached the scoreboard in the top of the fourth when Antoine Duplantis led off the inning with a solo home run to right field. There was some controversy as to whether or not the ball was fair or foul, but after a review there was no evidence to support a reversal of the call on the field.
FSU responded with a run of their own. Josh Smith went to centerfield to field a groundball, but Cade Beloso couldn’t handle the wide throw in. A wild pitch moved the runner to second where he easily scored on a double down the third base line from Tim Becker to make it 4-1 Seminoles.
LSU seemed to have a rally building in the top of the sixth when Josh Smith, Giovanni DiGiacomo, and Duplantis hit three singles in a row to lead off the inning and bring in a run. That rally was cut short when DiGiacomo was picked off at third base with too big of a lead for the second out. Cade Beloso then flew out to center to end the inning, and with less than two outs it would have brought in another run.
The Tigers completed the comeback in the eighth inning with two runs, but another crucial baserunning error might have cost them the lead.
Smith led off the inning with a double down the left field line and Duplantis scored him with an excuse me bloop single a foot away from the left field foul line. Cabrera reached on a single up the middle, but Duplantis had to stop at third. On the next pitch Zach Watson tied the game on a single through the left side of the infield, but was thrown out trying to take second base for the second out of the inning.
“That’s what we’ve been doing all year,” Duplantis said. “I don’t think this team ever quit right until the end and that’s what made this team special.”
For the next three innings, Fontenot and Florida State’s Antonio Velez locked horns, with neither budging until Fontenot entered the fateful sixth inning of relief.
It’s a bitter pill for LSU to swallow, namely players departing like Josh Smith and Antoine Duplantis. In his final game as a Tiger, the LSU Hit King went 4-6 with a double and home run, leading all hitters. Mainieri was visibly broken up when referring to LSU’s four-year rock in the outfield.
“It still doesn’t feel like it’s set in that it’s over,” Duplantis said. “I’ve been here for four years and this feels like it’s a part of my life now. For it to come to an end is tough...it sounds cliche but it’s a dream come true. I’ve dreamt about it my entire life and I’m very grateful for everything that happened.”
“He’s everything LSU baseball has to offer,” Smith said. “I’ve never played with a better player than him, never played with a better batter than him, and I’ve never played with a better fielder than him. Not only is he a good baseball player, but he’s an even better human on and off the field. He’s done so much for this program, he gave everything he could for this program. That’s one guy I’ll look up to for the rest of my life.”