LAFAYETTE — Kennon Fontenot doesn’t want to think about where he stood in the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team’s pecking order a year ago.
And as recently as two weeks ago, the sophomore who anchored Barbe High School’s nationally ranked program for years still was struggling, starting only 13 of the Ragin’ Cajuns’ first 50 games and hitting .184 in sporadic duty.
But when the Cajuns needed an extra boost amid a stretch run that resulted in a share of the Sun Belt Conference regular-season championship, Fontenot was there to provide that boost.
“He didn’t go pout at the end of the dugout when we gave him a chance early and took it away from him,” coach Tony Robichaux said. “He didn’t come knock on my door and say why or ask for a release. He stayed the course.”
Instead of door-knocking, Fontenot has let his bat do the talking. In UL-Lafayette’s past six games, he’s hitting .409 (9-of-22) with six runs, five RBIs and four walks. He has played solid in left field, a concept that was foreign to him last year.
“I try not to think about how I did last year,” Fontenot said. “I just try to focus on what we’re doing this year and how everything is going and what’s in front of us.”
What’s in front of the Cajuns (37-19) is the Sun Belt tournament in San Marcos, Texas, where UL-Lafayette will be going for its third straight title — something no team in Sun Belt history has done. The Cajuns are the No. 1 seed, which was as unlikely two weeks ago as Fontenot boosting his batting average 70 points in the season’s final two weeks.
The Cajuns go into Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. opener against Arkansas State on a six-game winning streak, and Fontenot’s offensive output has been one of the reasons. He has had three multi-hit games in that streak, and he had six hits in the series against Louisiana-Monroe as the Cajuns swept to earn a share of the title.
That’s a long way from three months ago, when Fontenot had a horrendous start to the season. Coming off a late-season 2015 surge that included a clutch ninth-inning RBI triple in the super regional at LSU, he went into his sophomore year with high hopes and proceeded to go 0-for-16 to start the season. He didn’t have his first hit until a March 8 game against Tulane, his sixth start, and he was hitting .050 in late March.
He made an occasional start, and he started all three games in the Sun Belt series at Arkansas State, but his role was limited until a midweek game at Houston two weeks ago when he had two plate appearances and turned in a double and a walk.
“I had a couple of pinch hits here and there,” Fontenot said, “but from (Houston), it’s kind of taken off for me.”
“He worked while he waited,” Robichaux said. “He had his chance early. He sat back down but he stayed working and stayed positive, and the game’s paying him back now.”
Fontenot came to the Cajuns as an infielder, where he was a multi-time all-state selection and led Barbe to two state titles while hitting .434, scoring 52 runs and stealing 31 bases. Last year, during his midseason struggles, the coaches told him to start taking fly balls in the outfield, “just to see if I could do it,” he said.
“I came back this fall and worked in the infield and in left field,” Fontenot said. “It’s just like a natural position now. It was something I could do, so they let me do it.”
He’s now playing a pivotal role in very different circumstances individually and team-wise compared to 12 months ago. The Cajuns had to win the Sun Belt tournament last year to secure a berth in the NCAA regional round, which they won in Houston to advance to a second straight super regional.
This week, regardless of the tournament outcome, the Cajuns have secured an NCAA berth — and they may be playing for a regional host position.
“The mindset of this team is the same as last year,” Fontenot said. “We’re going into the conference tournament looking to win it all. We’ve heard (hosting an NCAA regional) being thrown around; that would be awesome, to bring a regional back to Lafayette for all these fans and play at the ‘Tigue’ again. But we know we have to keep winning for that to happen.”