ACA.ulbaseball013.022621.jpg

The Tigers' Zach Arnold (2) turns the double play as the Cajuns' Carson Roccaforte (22) slides into second as University of Louisiana at Lafayette baseball hosts Louisiana State University on Wednesday, February 24, 2021, at M.L. Tigue Moore Field at Russo Park.

The sparse crowd pounded the bleachers. Some whistled. Others cheered. They created as much noise as possible, chanting “Ra-gin’ Ca-juns” as they hoped UL could make a comeback in the eighth inning.

In the middle of it all, senior closer Devin Fontenot tried to protect LSU’s lead Wednesday night. He entered for sophomore left-hander Alex Brady with no outs, the bases loaded and a four-run lead inside Russo Park.

On the first batted he faced, Fontenot caught a line drive hit straight back at him and instinctively threw out the runner trying to retreat back to first base. He struck out the next hitter, ending the inning. Fontenot leaped off the mound. The only noise in the ballpark came from LSU’s dugout as Fontenot pounded his chest and his teammates celebrated.

"I thought we had the momentum for the majority of that game until that one inning," Fontenot said. "They tried taking it from us, but we came back and made pitches."

After Fontenot escaped with the lead intact, No. 11 LSU scored another five runs in the final inning, highlighted by freshman Brody Drost’s two-run homer. The Tigers won 11-2, snapping a three-game losing streak to UL. They beat an in-state team on the road for the first time since March 2, 2016, against Nicholls State.

“I’m starting to feel better and better about our team every day,” coach Paul Mainieri said.

Before Drost’s homer or Fontenot’s escape, LSU capitalized on a slew of errors to take an early lead. The Ragin’ Cajuns (3-2) committed four errors, which allowed LSU (3-1) to score four unearned runs.

Three of those errors occurred in the second inning. Sophomore center fielder Mitchell Sanford walked, junior left fielder Gavin Dugas hit an infield single and freshman third baseman Jordan Thompson reached on an error. With the bases loaded, sophomore catcher Alex Milazzo grounded out. Sanford scored anyway.

Two batters later, sophomore Cade Doughty approached the plate. Previously with one hit this season, he knocked a sharp ground ball off the glove of shortstop Sam Riola. The ball bounced into left field as Dugas and Thompson scored.

LSU sports news in your inbox

If you're a Tiger fan you won't want to miss this newsletter. Sign up today.

As LSU added runs, its pitchers baffled the Ragin’ Cajuns for most of the game. Making his first start, freshman right-hander Garrett Edwards struck out the first two batters he faced. He didn’t allow a run until he surrendered a solo homer in the third inning.

With LSU leading 4-1, Edwards walked the next batter. He then allowed a double into left-center field, putting runners in scoring position with one out. After a strikeout, Edwards returned to his wind-up, where he felt more confident. Then he hit the next batter as an inside pitch ran too far.

Freshman right fielder Carson Roccaforte approached with the bases loaded. He entered the game batting .308 and had singled in his first at-bat. Edwards struck him out. The lead protected, he yelled and hopped off the mound.

"I was eager to face him after he got a base hit off me in the second inning," Edwards said. "I was a little aggravated about that."

Freshman Will Hellmers, senior Matthew Beck and Brady held UL to that lone run until the eighth inning. LSU led 6-1 when Brady, who rescued Beck and pitched a scoreless seventh, allowed a leadoff single. He walked the next two batters.

Fontenot stood in the bullpen as Brady faced Roccaforte, a left-handed hitter. Roccaforte singled through the infield, and one run scored. The fans inside Russo Park cheered. For a moment, UL had a chance to overcome its defensive errors.

Then Fontenot entered from the bullpen and ended the inning, performing like the closer LSU expects him to be. Once LSU scored another five runs, the crowd left, silent.

As Mainieri left the stadium, he stopped for a Zoom press conference and smiled about the win. “I feel really good about the direction we’re heading,” he said, and departed for the bus.

Email Wilson Alexander at walexander@theadvocate.com