This is the sixth of a six-part series, highlighting some of Kentucky's standout returnees entering the season opener. UK opens its 2012 season in Spartanburg, S.C., facing Wofford on Friday at 4 p.m. ET.
Several candidates have tried the challenging role with mixed success, including former UK hurlers Matt Little, Aaron Lovett, Scott Green, Mike Kaczmarek and Braden Kapteyn. Closing games in the SEC is no small feat, as 15 games will be played in the most hostile atmospheres in college baseball against the top hitters in the nation.
UK sophomore right-hander Trevor Gott appears to be designed to pitch in crucial, late-inning situations. A 6-foot, 190-pounder, Gott possess a competitive streak on the mound and an ability to focus in key situations.
"It is key to have a competitive streak as a reliever," Gott said. "The adrenaline is pumping at all times. You have to be focused. You may have to come in and get six of the most important outs of the game. You have to go in and be on top of your game. It is going to be a tight situation when you go in. There can't be any mistakes. You have to love pressure to be a late-inning reliever."
As a freshman, Gott was used in a key reliever role, at times closing games and coming in when UK needed outs from its bullpen in the most important of situations. A product of Tates Creek High School, Gott came to UK as the Gatorade Kentucky High School Player of the Year and as a legend in the local little league community.
UK head coach and pitching coach Gary Henderson was not afraid to put Gott into the fire early, as the freshman made 23 relief outings in 2011, totaling a 2-4 record, a 3.62 ERA and two saves. He tossed 27.1 innings and struck out 34.
Gott's ERA was inflated due to three rocky outings, at LSU, at Western Kentucky and at No. 4 Florida. Without those three outings in 2011, Gott had a 0.70 ERA with two saves and 32 strikeouts in 25.2 innings.
"It was awesome," Gott said about playing such a prominent role in the staff as a freshman. "You face the best every day and are put in tough environments. Pitching in front of all those fans at South Carolina and LSU is a unique SEC experience. You learn to pitch in high-pressure situations and you are facing the best college players every weekend. You have to have your best stuff and your best focus every weekend or you won't succeed. You have to be on your game all times."
The freshman had a several standout moments in 2011, including a crucial two-inning save in a 2-1 win over red-hot, undefeated and tournament front-runner Utah in the Houston College Classic at the Houston Astros' Minute Maid Park. He notched his second career save with two strikeouts vs. No. 12 Arkansas and picked up wins over Tennessee and Illinois-Chicago.
The offseason is when Gott's development started to take off. Henderson arranged for a spot for Gott in the Cape Cod League for Orleans. In the CCBL, Gott was unquestionably the top reliever in the league, becoming the first UK player to earn the prestigious Russell Ford Cape Cod League Reliever of the Year award since Scott Smith in 1992.
"That is a huge honor," Gott said about winning the CCBL reliever of the year award. "It is humbling to be named the best reliever in the best college summer league. It was a great experience and a tremendous honor."
In the CCBL, Gott posted a 1.29 ERA in 18 appearances, with 13 saves in 13 chances in the regular-season. He was selected to the CCBL All-Star Game, along with UK southpaw Taylor Rogers, played at Fenway Park. Henderson and UK baseball media relations director Brent Ingram flew to Fenway Park to watch Gott and Rogers in what turned out to be a banner day for the Wildcats.
Rogers made the start and picked up the win, with Gott summoned from the Fenway bullpen in the ninth inning with rain starting to pound down on top of the historic mound. Gott was unfazed in front of the crowd and in the driving rain, picking up the save with a perfect ninth inning.
"It was a great experience," Gott said about the Cape Cod League. "For one, it was good to get away from Lexington. I was comfortable here and part of baseball is getting out of your comfort zone. To get away from home and face the best guys in the nation in the Cape, it really helps you get ready for the SEC. It made me a lot better for this year."