When University of Louisiana at Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux talks about speeding the game up and slowing it down, he uses Kennon Fontenot as an example.
Last year’s highly regarded freshman infielder started six games and saw significant action in several other early contests in 2015. But he struggled at the plate, and more importantly was inconsistent at second base — inconsistency that was never a problem during his career at Lake Charles’ Barbe High.
That appears to be a thing of the past, if fall and preseason workouts are any indication.
“He’s really had a heck of a fall,” Robichaux said of the 5-foot-10 sophomore. “He’s barreling up balls, he’s playing really good at second, and he could start in left on opening night. He’s doing the things that we thought he would.”
Fontenot hit .179 and committed six errors in 25 chances before being shelved last March, just about the time that eventual Sun Belt Conference Tournament MVP and second-team All-American Stefan Trosclair got healthy and took over at second base.
“I had to slow the game down,” Fontenot said. “Last year helped me a lot watching all those guys, (shortstop and All-American Blake Trahan), Stefan, all those seniors. They taught me to slow down, just go out there and have fun.”
The game is much more fun when you’re playing, which Fontenot wasn’t. He saw little playing time late in the year and did not play in either the Sun Belt Tournament or the NCAA regional in Houston, both of which the Cajuns won on the way to their second straight super regional outing.
“As a coach, you hate that, too,” Robichaux said. “It’s hard to build somebody’s confidence when you shelf them after something bad. We got caught up midway, trying to get Trosclair back on the field, and it ended up being what it was.”
Fontenot kept plugging, though, and improved his hitting enough that when Robichaux needed a pinch hitter in the ninth inning of the second game of the super regional against LSU, he called on the freshman.
Fontenot delivered an RBI triple, one night after entering in a reserve role in left field. The Cajuns fell in both super regional games, losing 6-3 in the finale, but Fontenot found a spark at the end of a disappointing season.
“It gave me some confidence, especially coming in the last game,” he said. “I tried just to take that and roll with it coming into this year. I was excited when they sent me, but I was just thinking I had to get the job done and get the run in.”
“That gave him something to build on over the summer,” Robichaux said, “instead of having such a long summer after having been shelved. Having him come back late and swing the bat was good for him and good for us. He’s done a great job of coming back and having no residuals from last year.”
Fontenot had a huge athletic career at Barbe, earning three honorable mention All-America honors from Perfect Game and helping lead the Bucs to state titles as a sophomore and senior, when he hit .434 with 15 doubles and six homers. He also drove in 52 runs and stole 31 bases, but he was better known as the elusive quarterback for Barbe’s powerhouse football team.
Robichaux, though, said expecting him to step seamlessly into college play may have been asking too much.
“That comes with time,” Robichaux said. “Some people get a little out over their skis as a freshman, but now he’s back under control. The more you play, the more you learn to slow down. That’s why I love having our pro guys working with us, you watch them and they play the game so slow.”
Trosclair is among UL-Lafayette’s five everyday starters returning, but the senior standout has worked at first base in preseason drills and open up a slot at second base. Even if that doesn’t happen, Fontenot has worked extensively in left field, where he had his first outfield start last year.
“I’ve been working mostly in left, playing a little second here and there,” he said. “I’m getting very confident in both of those.”
Robichaux has seen a different Fontenot in those workouts.
“Intrasquad today, we had a bounder over a pitcher’s head,” Robichaux said. “And (Fontenot) made a nice play on a plus runner with no panic in his body. We’re going to have an athletic team with guys that can move around. You’re going to see a lot of guys play, and he’ll be one of those guys.”