Nobody will ever confuse Paul Mainieri for a card shark. Whether things are going good or bad — especially bad — the coach has a habit of wearing it on his sleeve.
That was on display when televisions cameras caught a visibly-upset Mainieri hooking Devin Fontenot in the eighth inning on Friday night. Fontenot, pumping 95 mph fastballs, had just walked a batter hitting .093, and Mainieri had clearly seen enough.
The exchange on the mound was undeniably heated, but the coach had a message within the madness: you’re better than this.
“I’m not going to tell you anything that isn’t true,” Mainieri said Saturday. “I challenged him last night. I got after him pretty good because I just didn’t think he was fulfilling his great potential. This kid has the potential to be a Major League pitcher.
“He’s got a super arm, he’s got a repeatable delivery, he throws strikes and his slider is getting better. I just want to push him through the threshold to make him want to be great, because the sky is the limit as far as I’m concerned.”
One day later Fontenot was back on the mound, and the talented sophomore rose to the occasion when LSU needed him most.
Fontenot came out of the bullpen and fired four shutout innings of two-hit ball. He held the line as LSU dug out of a 4-1 hole and nailed down the rubber match victory once Cade Beloso belted a go-ahead home run in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“He said he challenged me like he never challenged a player before,” Fontenot said. “He told me I need to be better. I know I need to be better. Everyone tells me I’m better than what I’ve been showing. It was just my time to do that and get that series win for the team.”
The outing began with a Houdini act as Fontenot inherited a jam from Eric Walker in the fourth inning. Cal had runners on second and third with one out, and Fontenot retired leadoff man Cameron Eden and reigning Golden Spikes Award winner Andrew Vaughn to keep the deficit at three.
Beloso actually doubled down on challenging Fontenot once he got back to the dugout from his second home run trot of the night.
“I saw a different kind of Devin tonight,” Beloso said. “After the home run I challenged Devin in the dugout. I said ‘Dude, this is your game. Go finish it.’ I’m getting chills talking about it. I saw a different look in his eyes. On the mound he was a bulldog.”
Closer Todd Peterson got warmed up in the bullpen as Fontenot gave up a double in the final inning. The tying run was in scoring position, but Mainieri stuck with Fontenot.
Truth be told, Mainieri would’ve had a hard time getting the ball away from Fontenot if he tried.
“I did not want to come out at all,” Fontenot said. “I felt like I was in a groove and I was feeling really good. Everything was working.”
LSU hopes Fontenot’s brilliant outing is the start of more to come with Southeastern Conference play set to begin on Friday.
It won’t be the last time LSU turns the ball over to Fontenot and his electric arm in a big spot, and if Saturday was indeed a breakthrough game for the sophomore, his talents will be a big help in SEC play.