It was the bottom of the 11th inning of the NCAA Regional opening-round game with No. 25 Kent State.
Kentucky and the Golden Flashes were locked in a magnificent, surreal 5-5 game that was pushing the boundaries of believable and teetering on the edge of fiction.
UK closer Trevor Gott strolled from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box, tugged on a batting helmet, adjusted his gloves and peered down the barrel of a bat.
These were all things that Gott – who enters the 2013 season as one of the nation’s premier relievers – had not done since winning Gatorade Player of the Year honors in 2010 at Tates Creek High School.
The native of Lexington, Ky., took over in relief of Alex Phillips to start extra innings against Kent with the Wildcats desperately needing quick outs in a quest to win it in the bottom half. He retired the side in the top of the 10th and 11th, before he was told to grab a bat and helmet and get ready to bunt Thomas McCarthy over to second base.
McCarthy laced a line drive to the rightfielder for the first out and Gott looked back into the dugout to see if he was still to take his unprecedented spot in the now disheveled batter’s box.
“Of course, I had a vision in my head of a walk-off home run in a ballpark where no one could hit home runs,” Gott said.
The six-foot right-hander did foul off the first pitch he saw on a line to the backstop but fanned on the next two pitches for the second out.
“But, I hadn’t seen live pitching in over two years so it didn’t go how I expected,” Gott said.
He did turn in a career outing on the mound as the Wildcats fought to win the game against a feisty Golden Flashes squad that would capture the nation’s attention as a Cinderella advancing to Omaha. Gott worked a career-long four innings, allowing just two hits and one walk, striking out a career-best six.
“Every inning I pitched I thought in the bottom half of the inning we were about to win it,” Gott said. “That was tough coming in and thinking that we were going to win it and then go back out. I thought everyone did a great job staying concentrated. A.J. (Reed) of course went nine innings which was really impressive. It is just tough to do that for anybody to play 21 innings.”
Regardless of how the season ended, Kentucky had a record-breaking season and its closer also etched his name throughout the UK history books. While earning spots on the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Player of the Year Watch List and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award Watch List, Gott set the UK single-season record with nine saves.
He appeared in 23 games and charted a 3-0 record with a 2.16 ERA. Gott tossed 25 innings and allowed only 17 hits and seven walks, striking out 38 and limiting opponents to a .189 average. He was especially dominant against Southeastern Conference foes, working the first five innings of the year against league opponents without allowing a hit.
Gott’s performance as a sophomore helped set the tone for a dynamic UK bullpen that shattered the school record with 22 saves.
“It is everything,” Gott said about the importance of a good bullpen. “Corey (Littrell), A.J. (Reed), Chandler (Shepherd), (Jerad) Grundy – really whoever we start out there – we trust that they will give us a chance to come in in the seventh or eighth and shut it down for us. Last year we were 40-0 when leading after the seventh inning, which kind of speaks for itself. It is big for a starter to be able to know that they can give us five, six, seven innings and know they are going to get a win if they come out of the game with the lead. That is big for the defense too because they know that when someone comes in they are going to pretty much shut it down and they don’t have to put up big runs in the late innings.”
Throughout the record-breaking year of 2012, head coach Gary Henderson praised the unselfishness of the UK pitching staff. He repeatedly expressed pride in Gott and other members of the talented staff who had a constant ability to put the needs of the team above their own, creating a special team atmosphere.
“Everyone wants to go out and play as much as they possibly can but when it comes down to it, everyone just wants to win, at least in our program,” Gott said. “That is just how a team has to be. You can’t have a bunch of people on their own who want to shine because that is not how it works and is not how it works here.”
Now entering his junior season as one of the top relievers in the nation, Gott is primed to help the program build on its 2012 campaign, with the majority of that help slated to come from the mound.