When Kentucky's baseball team is in a late-inning jam, Coach Gary Henderson usually has the answer:
Closer Trevor Gott already has a UK record with nine saves this season.
Combined with an offense that leads the Southeastern Conference in nearly every category and a solid weekend rotation, Gott is a big reason the seventh-ranked Wildcats (38-11, 15-9 SEC) are just a game off the lead in the SEC East and SEC overall.
UK will complete its home schedule this weekend against Alabama (18-30, 7-17), and wrap up league play next week at Mississippi State.
Gott, a 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore right-hander, was Gatorade Kentucky High School Player of the Year in 2010 for Tates Creek.
As a senior, he went 6-0 with a 1.12 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 471⁄3 innings. He also batted .382.
Of course, recruiting began well before that season.
"What I expected was that he would help us. I didn't really know exactly what role," Henderson said. "I knew he was really talented. By the time we signed him ... I began to think he might be a guy we could put in the bullpen early on. ... He had such a quick arm and the ball came out of his hand so well. But I can't tell you that that's what I was thinking when I saw him in the 10th grade."
As a UK freshman, Gott played in 23 games. He went 2-4, with two saves, a 3.62 ERA, 34 strikeouts and 16 walks.
Then, he went to the Cape Cod League last summer.
Results were stunning: 18 games, 13 saves in 13 chances, 1.29 ERA, 26 strikeouts in 21 innings, four walks.
In the Cape Cod all-star game, played at Fenway Park, Gott saved the win for UK teammate Taylor Rogers.
"It helped a lot, pitching against the top college baseball talent from not just the Southeastern Conference, but from all over — the Pac-12, ACC, all those good conferences," Gott said. "Being able to face them and know that I can pitch against them as well, it just helped my confidence a lot."
The added confidence was evident when Gott returned. Plus, Henderson says, Gott learned the importance of command and being more efficient in a league that doesn't have the mid-week schedule lulls of collegiate ball.
Lessons learned have translated to a breakout collegiate season, too.
Thus far, he is 2-0 with nine saves, a 3.00 ERA, with 26 strikeouts to five walks over 18 innings and 19 games. Opponents are batting .209.
"This year, he's found himself," senior catcher Michael Williams said of Gott. "He's found the mental aspect he needs to get in. ... He comes into the game with a great attitude, a great mind-set to attack the hitter and keep them off-balance with his aggressiveness."
Gott, who calls his record "a great honor," had no idea he was nearing the UK mark set by Paul Morse in 1993.
"When I got to eight saves, people started saying I tied the record and all this," he said. "I figured it'd be a lot more than eight."
Armed with a fastball, change-up and curve ball, Gott is a different player than he was two years ago.
"In high school, I didn't have an off-speed and my fastball was straight. It didn't have any movement, really," Gott said. "But when I got here, Coach Henderson's done a great job with me. I have a two-seam fastball that moves, and it's a lot tougher to hit. And my off-speed has gotten tremendously better, especially this year."
More pitches, better command, staying ahead in the count, keeping the ball low — all play a part in Gott's success, Henderson says. Most importantly, he's able to play one pitch at a time.
"You can't be scared to fail. That's the main thing about being a closer," Gott said. "Because it's baseball, so you're going to fail. You can't have failure in the back of your mind. Honestly, when I come in, you just kind of block out (distractions). ... There's this big pressure that's fun, though."
A recently declared communications major, Gott communicates this about his one superstition:
"I wear a pair of high Nike socks under my game socks every game. The same pair. ... They get washed, but I have to have them on or I feel lost out there."
The Cats are happy to have their closer sock it to 'em.
■ Williams and fellow seniors Thomas McCarthy and Alex Phillips will be playing the final regular-season home series of their careers.
"We've re-established ourselves," Williams said of this season's results. "And I told people earlier this year that we'd make a surprise in the SEC, and we have so far. We still want to accomplish a lot more, but I'm very proud of where we are right now, and I think we have a lot to go."
■ Friday's game time has been pushed from 6:30 to 7 p.m., to accommodate television (CSS). Saturday's game, at 2 p.m., also will be televised (Fox Sports South). The series finale is set for Sunday at 1 p.m.
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com