James Fontenot is supposed to be the setup man for Southern closer Rafael Diaz.
He set up Diaz on Sunday, but in a most unconventional way. The Jaguars already had used all their weekend starters in the first three games against South Dakota State, and pitching coach Dan Canevari plucked Fontenot from the bullpen to start Sunday’s fourth game, which wasn’t scheduled until Saturday.
Fontenot responded with a strong 7.2 innings before handing the ball to Diaz to complete the Jaguars’ 10-4 victory at Lee-Hines Field.
“He set it up quite nicely,” Southern head coach Roger Cador said. “He pitched a really masterful game because this is a really good hitting team. He kept them off balance. He threw strikes, and he challenged them when he had to.”
When Fontenot (1-0), who pitched two innings in relief Friday, arrived at the park at 10:30 a.m. Sunday for the 1 p.m. start, Canevari told him he would be making his second career start and first in 386 days.
“He told me, ‘You’ve got the ball today,’ ” Fontenot said. “I was like, ‘Oh, cool, all right.’ ”
Cador said he and Canevari were going to “play it by ear” in terms of how long Fontenot would go.
“We were going to go two or three innings,” Cador said, “and if the game wasn’t out of hand, we were going to keep him in.”
The game wasn’t out of hand, but it was getting close to it after the Jackrabbits (5-6), who outscored the Jaguars 27-11 in winning the first three games, scored one in the first and two in the second.
But their first run came without a ball leaving the infield, and the other two came when Sam Krick reached on catcher’s interference and Fontenot yielded a single to Al Robbins and a two-run double to Paul Jacobson.
After getting a strikeout to end the second, Fontenot threw 5.2 scoreless innings before leaving with two outs in the eighth after yielding a single and a walk.
“When I was warming up, I was just telling myself to stay calm and stay loose and take it nice and easy,” Fontenot said. “When you come out of the bullpen, you want to gas it up all the time.”
Diaz gave up a run in the ninth after three singles, including two on the infield, loaded the bases and Tony Kjolsing hit a two-out line drive off Diaz’s buttocks for an RBI single.
After throwing a couple of warmup pitches, Diaz got the next batter on a fly ball to end the game.
“I’m lucky it didn’t hit any bone because it would have hurt more and I wouldn’t have been to finish the game,” said Diaz, who’s already playing with a broken middle finger on his non-throwing hand. “It was hurting a little, but I was thinking, ‘There’s two outs; just get one more and finish the game.’ ”
The Jaguars (2-10), who had struggled offensively in losing nine of their 10 games before Sunday, turned things around dramatically midway through the game. They scored all of their runs with two outs, getting five in the fifth, three in the sixth and the final two on Tyler Kirksey’s homer in the eighth.
“Things are contagious,” Cador said. “This is the 11th game of the season, and they started believing in themselves.”
Kirksey said that in the early innings Cador and assistant coach Jason Anderson were telling the hitters to “scoot up” in the batter’s box.
“That really helped because we were fishing a lot on breaking balls and popping up,” Kirksey said.
It all started innocently enough, with No. 9 hitter Lance Jones’ two-out single with nobody on in the fifth.
“As soon as Lance got that hit,” Fontenot said, “I said, ‘All right, here we go.’ ”
Jones stole second, and Lane Williams and Marcus Tomlin walked to load the bases. Jose de la Torre singled in two runs, and D.J. Wallace singled in the tying run. Kirksey walked before Rivers Frederick singled in two to give the Jaguars a 5-3 lead.
In the sixth, Tomlin singled home a run, and de la Torre and Kirksey each doubled home a run. Two innings later, Kirksey finished the scoring for the Jaguars, who host Louisiana-Lafayette on Wednesday, with a 400-foot-plus drive over the wall in center.
“All of a sudden, it just clicked for us and we just got it rolling,” he said.
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.