Devin Fontenot crouched in front of the mound at Alex Box Stadium and shoved his face into the crook of his arm. His back heaved up and down. Florida State's players ran through the infield, tossing water and hats, celebration beside LSU’s heartbreak.
Fontenot had delivered his greatest performance during the NCAA super regional on Sunday night, one that might have been discussed for a decade, maybe longer. He reached career-highs in innings, in pitches, in strikeouts. He didn’t allow a hit until the 12th.
This season that began with expectations of the College World Series and a seventh national title had ended in a 5-4 loss to Florida State. Some players collapsed onto the dirt. Others gaped. Many cried. Fontenot sobbed.
Coach Paul Mainieri ran to Fontenot’s side. He held the sophomore pitcher by his shoulders and ushered him off the field. The crowd stood and applauded. Fontenot threw 6 ⅓ shutout innings until Florida State third baseman Drew Mendoza hit a game-winning single.
“He feels like he lost the game for our team,” Mainieri said. “I didn't want him to feel that way. I didn't want to see the kid out there by himself in pain.
Mainieri paused. His eyes welled with tears.
“That's all I could think to do.”
The Tigers battled Florida State in the second game of the super regional on Sunday, but ultimately dropped the game and ended their season.
Trying to force a deciding Game 3, early mistakes loomed after the loss. When Florida State loaded the bases in the second inning, pitcher Landon Marceaux induced a ground ball to first baseman Cade Beloso. He stepped on the bag and threw home.
Catcher Saul Garza caught the ball and reached for the runner. The ball slid out of Garza's glove as he applied the tag. Florida State took a one-run lead.
Marceaux gave up two more singles before he ended the inning. The Seminoles sent eight batters to the plate, singled four times and pulled ahead 3-0. Marceaux’s start ended in the fourth after he allowed another run.
In the sixth inning, LSU cut the lead to 4-2. But the Tigers had runners on second and third with one out and neither scored. As center fielder Zach Watson batted, freshman Giovanni DiGiacomo wandered too far from third base. Florida State catcher Matheu Nelson threw him out, taking a potential run off the field for the second out.
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end for the LSU baseball team.
"If I would have told him to play it like there was nobody out," Mainieri said, "he wouldn't have exposed himself to being picked off."
The Tigers, the visitors for game 2 of the super regional, trailed 4-2 until the eighth inning. A comeback from a team that set a school record for game-winning hits felt inevitable. Shortstop Josh Smith hit a leadoff double.
With one out, senior right fielder Antoine Duplantis dropped a double near the left-field line. Smith scored, bringing LSU within a run, and Florida State removed starting pitcher CJ Van Eyk.
During the pitching change, Todd Peterson and Clay Moffitt stood in front of the LSU dugout waving their arms. Moffitt stuck out his tongue and shook it. The Tigers waited, and when play resumed, left fielder Daniel Cabrera singled to put runners on the corners.
Watson came to the plate, hitless in his previous three at-bats. He smacked a single into left field. Duplantis trotted home. The crowd ignited. Tie game was tied.
Watson tried to take second base but he was thrown out, a tight call that stood after review. The Tigers left Cabrera on third. They didn’t put another runner in scoring position.
Fontenot entered in the sixth. LSU had pitchers ready in the bullpen, but Fontenot came back out for the 12th inning without having allowed a hit. He had slapped his chest and strutted off the mound after strikeouts. He had pitched the game of his life.
"It was his ball game,” Mainieri said. “He was a man possessed.”
After doubling his season-high with a 10th strikeout, Fontenot gave up a single to Florida State shortstop Mike Salvatore, who advanced to second base on a wild pitch. Then Fontenot struck out another batter.
Mainieri considered walking Mendoza, Florida State's best power hitter, with first base open. He thought about it hard. Robby Martin, who had a .322 batting average, waited in the on-deck circle. Mendoza had 69 strikeouts this season and one hit during the game. LSU went after him.
"I thought we could throw fastballs by Mendoza," Mainieri said.
With two outs in a 2-2 count, Mendoza singled into right field. Duplantis heaved the ball toward home plate. It came too late. Salvatore scored. The game ended. So did the season.
Antoine Duplantis heaved a throw into the infield.
As Florida State dog-piled, the Tigers comforted one another. They grabbed each other's backs. They pulled themselves off the ground. The season had begun with a No. 1 ranking. It ended in misery.
"I don't think this team ever quit, right until the end," Duplantis said. "That's what made this team special."
This group will split now, some players going to professional futures while others end their baseball careers and the underclassmen prepare for next year. The celebration continued behind them, and the Tigers walked off the field together, all teammates for the last time.