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Baseball: Cajuns utility man Fontenot plays with 'no fear of failure'

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, March 29, 2018

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UL utility man Kennon Fontenot relays a throw from the outfield against Troy last Friday night at The Tigue. (Photo: JAMES MAYS/SPECIAL TO THE ADVERTISER)

He’s that guy every baseball team loves to have, the one that can play here, there and almost anywhere on the diamond.

In UL senior Kennon Fontenot’s case, that meant first base, third base and left field this season alone.

The senior from Barbe High in Lake Charles has eight career starts at first — all this year, including one in UL’s 3-1 win over No. 19 LSU on Tuesday night in the Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic at The Shrine on Airline in Metairie.

More: UL's Harris, pen come up big in second win over LSU

He has two starts this year at third, including one in UL’s 2018 season-opener at nationally ranked Texas.

Fontenot has 85 career starts, including 12 this season, in left field.

Oh, and he’s been UL’s designated hitter five times, including once this season, and he has seven career starts at second, though none this year with Hunter Kasuls holding down the bag there.

“To keep him moving around like we have is a credit to (Fontenot), and it’s really helped us having that utility guy,” said coach Tony Robichaux, whose 11-13 Cajuns open a three-game Sun Belt Conference series on Thursday night at Arkansas State.

“Those guys are hard to find,” Robichaux added, “but they really make your roster better because they give you one, two or three players.”

Yet, they only count as one.

As difficult as it may be, though, Robichaux manages to keep finding them.

Related: Walk-off win helps Cajuns avoid sweep

Fontenot is the latest in a long line, including — most recently behind him — ex-Cajuns Joe Robbins and Ryan Leonards.

And he can even play short if need be, Robichaux suggested.

Robbins played a lot at third and centerfield for the Cajuns, while Leonards, who began as a shortstop, was used at second base, third and in the outfield.

“Those guys are very valuable on teams,” Robichaux said, “because every time there’s a hole somewhere you can kind of move them to plug that hole up for a little while — until things maybe settle back down.

“That’s not always easy to do with a player, because most guys see the ball to one side of the field.”

Leonards, from Notre Dame High, was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 21st round of the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft.

He played three seasons in the minors, all in the White Sox organization, making it to as high as the Triple-A level for four games in 2016.

Beyond centerfield Robbins could play anywhere in the infield, and he even spent some practicing at catcher when the Cajuns were in a pinch.

More: Robbins holds the key to Cajun lineup decisions

The Tioga High product played last season with the Lincoln (Nebraska) of the independent American Association, and after hitting .302 over 49 games — one at first base, one at second, three at shortstop, 21 in the outfield mostly in center and 23 at third, further evidence of his versatility — Robbins was signed to a minor-league contract by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

contract by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“Watching Joe, that guy just came every day and he just did the same thing,” Fontenot said of Robbins, his teammate for three seasons from 2015-17.

“It didn’t matter where he was, where he was playing, or anything. He just came out, did his thing and … did it well.”

For Fontenot, the approach is quite similar.

“I just embraced it by taking it (as), ‘Wherever they need me, whenever they me, they know I can do it,’” he said.

Just don’t blink, because there is no telling where Fontenot might be.

When Robichaux wanted to get true freshman Johnathan Windham into the lineup early in the year, he had the flexibility of being able to use Fontenot in left.

Column: After heated NIT, UL and LSU are cool on the diamond

With first baseman Tyler Stover struggling at the plate, the Cajuns coach at times has started Fontenot at first and then moved him elsewhere after bringing Stover in for defensive purposes.

“It gives (Robichaux) a chance to get a guy in there that he may want to,” Fontenot said, “or just move things around — just give him options, just to get things going.”

It seems to have worked  not just defensively, though.

Fontenot’s 16 RBI so far this season are a team-high.

That total includes two Tuesday night, the first of which came off a first-inning double that gave UL an early lead over LSU. He also homered against Troy last Friday night, marking his 11th career dinger and second this year. 

More: LSU fails in clutch in 3-1 loss to Cajuns

Off the field, the intangibles perhaps are as valuable as the bat and glove.

“He leads, but he’s not your typical (leader),” Robichaux said. “Everybody thinks the leader is the holler-and-screamer, or the loudest guy out there.

“But the thing about Kennon,” Robichaux said, “is Kennon is a really good leader in the clubhouse, really good leader in the dugout. And he does it quietly.”

Fontenot has needed to do a lot of whispering lately.

After beating LSU, the Cajuns have won five straight midweek games, but heading into their trip to Arkansas State they still have not yet won a weekend series this season.

Their 11 wins include four over nationally ranked teams — Texas (in a three-game weekend series), Vanderbilt and two against LSU — but they’ve not yet won three in a row.

More: Brutal UL scheduling 'a sick deal,' but Robichaux likes it

“I let these guys know every day, ‘We may be struggling, but we’re gonna get through this,’” Fontenot said last weekend. “And once we do get through it, the sky’s the limit.”

The win over LSU may mark a break in the clouds.

“So we’ve just go to keep fighting, and keep coming every day,” Fontenot said.

“Everybody just has to stay together. That’s all it takes, is everybody doing their job for the man next to them and staying together and nobody getting negative or something like that.”

So far, Fontenot suggested, the Cajuns are feeding off the good times and not letting the hard ones get to them.

“Everybody is still positive,” he said. “Everybody is there for each other. We’re gonna get out of this, and when we do it’s gonna be good.”

Related: Son of Cajuns baseball legend battles to continue legacy

That’s good for Robichaux, who has watched Fontenot’s  transformation over the last four years.

He arrived at UL as a wide-eyed second baseman, and when the game initially played a bit too fast Fontenot slowed down and took the time to figure it all out.

Now?

“He plays the game with no fear of failure,” Robichaux said.

Fontenot does just that, even if he has no idea where he might be playing on any given day or night.

Or inning.

How does he handle the uncertainty?

“It all gets back to ‘whatever they really need,’” Fontenot said. “I don’t mind playing anywhere at any time.”

UL (11-13, 2-4 in the Sun Belt) at ARKANSAS STATE (9-12, 1-5)

WHAT: Sun Belt Conference college baseball series

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, 6:30 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Tomlinson Stadium/Kell Field; Jonesboro, Ark.

TV: None

STREAMING: ESPN3

RADIO: KPEL 96.5 FM with Jay Walker and Jeff Schneider

UL PITCHERS:Sophomore RHP Jack Burk (2-4, 5.06) Thursday night, junior RHP Nick Lee (1-2, 3.09 ERA)Friday night, senior LHP Colten Schmidt (1-0, 1.58) Saturday

UL LEADERS: OF Gavin Bourgeois (.312, six doubles, seven steals), OF Daniel Lahare (.257), SS Hayden Cantrelle (.241), 1B/3B/LF Kennon Fontenot (.235), 16 RBI, two homers)