LSU vets can leave Alex Box with heads held high following Supers loss
This time there was no rally possum or a beachball drifting into the outfield to fuel a monster comeback. No this was pure skill and the ultimate will of a team fueled by its two veterans, Josh Smith and Antoine Duplantis and a pitching performance for the ages by sophomore Devin Fontenot.
While the season would end in heartache and despair for three of the team’s most competitive stars, the comeback starting in the fourth and ending with a walkoff loss in the 12th inning, encapsulates the 2019 LSU baseball squad in one word, winners with the heart’s of Tigers.
For much of the game, Florida State starter CJ Van Eyk looked to overwhelm the LSU hitters, but it wasn’t until one at bat started to change the narrative. Duplantis stepped to the plate in the fourth inning, just as his walk-up song “My Type” was slowly dissipating to the disgruntled moans of Tiger fans throughout the stadium.
On a 2-1 count, Duplantis ripped a high-flyer down the right field line. It kept carrying and carrying until it found its way to land just inside the yellow foul pole for the Tigers first run of the game. It was a swing that rejuvenated an LSU crowd begging for some kind of momentum, and the senior didn’t stop there.
It was Smith’s turn in the sixth as the Tiger leadoff hitter who has made his name by getting on base in his three year career, lead off the inning with single to right field, shouting to the LSU dugout as he scampered by.
Two batters later, it was once again the “Hit King” Duplantis asked to come through in another clutch moment, and the senior delivered with a single to opposite field that was enough to bring his teammate Smith home. Once again, the at bat made it a two run game, but the story didn't end there.
With their backs still against the wall in a 4-2 ball game in the eighth inning, the Tigers had the top of the order due up, which meant more opportunities for Smith and Duplantis.
A double down the left field line by Smith is how the eighth started, bringing Duplantis back to the plate with one out after a Giovanni DiGiacomo strikeout. The senior came through once again, ripping a double down the left field line to get the Tigers one run closer, eventually scoring the tying run on a Zach Watson single.
The eighth inning swing was the fourth hit of the night for the senior while the junior Smith tacked on two more, but to see it end all for naught was devastating for the players, who fell in stunned silence as Florida State scored the winning run.
Mainieri, Smith and Duplantis fought back tears in the postgame conference with the 37-year head coach saying the toughest part in his profession is simply having to say goodbye.
“It’s not just the losing and seeing a season come to an end,” Mainieri said. “It’s having to say goodbye to people that have made a profound impact on your life. These two guys to my left [Duplantis and Smith] are two of several on this team that won’t be back next year. I told the boys I was very proud to have been there coach and my life has been enriched by having them in it.”
Duplantis will leave a lasting legacy with the LSU baseball program, finishing his career a the all time leader in hits, games played and at bats. Not too bad for a Lafayette kid not heavily recruited out of high school.
“It doesn’t hit you right away because you’re competing,” Duplantis said. “It took me until I saw everyone in the dugout but I feel like it still hasn’t set in that it’s over. I’ve been here for four years and it feels like a part of my life now and for it to come to an end is hard.”
Smith will leave as the next in a long line of superstar infielders the Tigers have produced over the years. The junior shortstop made sure to commend his teammate and close friend for the impact he’s had not only for the LSU program, but in his life as well.
“It’s hard to even describe,” Smith said. “The amount of work this kid has put in is unreal. This kid is everything LSU baseball has to offer, never played with a better competitor than him, a better hitter than him and a better fielder than him. He’s a better human on and off the field and one of my best friends.”
Then there was the sophomore Fontenot, one of the most electric pitchers on staff, know for his unpredictability and fiery personality. Fontenot entered the game facing a 4-2 deficit, knowing he needed to put zeros on the board to give his team a fighting chance.
The sophomore delivered one of the greatest college relief performances in recent memory, lasting 6.2 innings, allowing two hits, 11 strikeouts and one run. When Florida State hitter Drew Mendoza slapped the game winning run to right field, all Fontenot could do was drop in devastation.
“That performance by Devin Fontenot tonight, had we won the game, we would be talking about it 15 years from now,” Mainieri said. “He gave everything he had for our team and I’m just so proud about how far Devin has come.”
Mainieri ran out immediately to console the devastated Fontenot after the game had ended, something he said is instinctual as a head coach. Smith echoed the sentiments of his head coach, saying Fontenot’s performance is the embodiment of what it means to be an LSU Tiger.
“I know how Devin is, he feels like he lost the game for our team and I did not want him to feel that way,” Mainieri said. “I didn’t want to see the kid out there in pain.”
“Devin competed as best as he could, that’s one of the best relief performances I’ve ever seen a kid give,” Smith said. “He’s competed like that all year and for him to come in and do that, it just tells you what kind of kid he is and honestly what kind of team this is.”