We came into the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic wondering just how talented this USC roster really was and the answer was rather promising following a 8-4 win over UCLA on Sunday, along with walk-off wins over No. 1 Vanderbilt and No. 6 TCU in the span of an incredible 72-hour stretch.
“We are really playing at a high level right now,” said head coach Dan Hubbs. “(And) I think we’ve made the statement that we are really good.”
USC beat UCLA for the fourth-straight time, a record streak that dates back to 2004-2005 for the most consecutive wins over the Bruins.
The Trojans dominated from the start, scoring runs in six of the first seven innings. Not only did they score, this veteran club delivered back-breaking blows, scoring five times with two outs in the given inning.
Led by a two-RBI effort from Timmy Robinson and a three-hit game from Dante Flores, who lifted his average to .373 on the season, the Trojans’ responded after UCLA tied the game, 3-3, in the third inning.
For the UCLA Bruins (11-4), the humbling loss came at the hands of a superior opponent. “They just played better than we did,” said Savage, a former USC assistant coach. “Right now, USC is playing as good as they have in a long time.”
Playing in front of a record crowd of 14,688 fans, the USC Trojans looked like the best team in Los Angeles, period. They hit the ball well, they stole bases, they even executed bunt defense, an area that cost them in their lone loss of the season. While UCLA fought hard to keep things close in a 3:21 Sunday afternoon affair, the Trojans aggressive approach to the game made them tough to stop.
“We are really relentless as a group,” Hubbs said. “The kids want to be the best team on the field everyday and they’ve been able to do that over and over.”
The Trojans pounded 14 hits, made zero errors and pitched themselves out of multiple jams. They basically played a perfect game, even forcing UCLA to hit into a ground ball double play for the first time all season, completing the 3.1 innings save for Tyler Gilbert. USC showed the country what they were made of, and the results speak to a team leaning towards a top-10 national ranking.
“Fortunately we’ve been able to survive a few punches and not get knocked out,” Hubbs exclaimed.
Now 15-1 on the season featuring wins over three ranked teams, including two tough road wins against Cal State Fullerton and Fresno State, the expectations are simple. Get to the NCAA Regionals and do some damage.
USC finished one win short of the playoffs last season and Hubbs expressed an inspirational message to his players to ensure they wouldn’t suffer that hopeless feeling again.
“You never know what day will cost you, so we want to be the best team on the field everyday.”
While USC’s lone loss came to a ranked opponent, UCSB, the Trojans responded by winning three-straight games against a plethora of quality opponents. That says a lot for the RPI Rankings, the metric that basically makes or breaks your seeding for the tournament.
The road has been both long and arduous, but the USC Trojans honestly expect to make the NCAA Regionals for the first time since the 2005 season.
“They started to believe (in themselves) in the second half of last season,” Hubbs says, following a 29-24 campaign. “To play that well in front of the No. 1 team in the country, I was so proud of those guys.”
As long as USC continues to step on the gas pedal, the chances of any major slip up is unlikely. Coach Hubbs has instilled a confidence in this team that reflects the confident personality of a veteran bunch that is hungry to prove people wrong. The Trojans are fighters and that mentality feeds right into how they play the game on a daily basis.
“This team is motivated by getting on base, putting pressure on the pitcher and that helps us all out,” said senior second baseman Dante Flores, who recorded his first three-hit game of the season on Sunday.
There is no longer the excuse floating around that this team is too young to be among the nation’s best. The Trojans feature a starting lineup almost entirely loaded with upperclassmen and guys that have played significant games ever since they were just freshmen. Just look back to the 2013 season when USC finished 20-36 and only won 10 Pac-12 conference games. It was a trying year for sure, but also a valuable one where Hubbs got his first taste as head coach — taking the interim job just two days before the season opener.
These guys think they are one of the best teams in the country, and having that confidence can elevate the USC Trojans back into the national spotlight. National. The next crucial step will be to carry that momentum into conference play, hosting a Washington State team that they should be able to sweep.
In the meantime, Hubbs and company will take a moment to enjoy this awesome Dodgertown Classic. “It’s never about who we play, it’s all about how we play.”
Evan Budrovich is a class of 2015 USC Annenberg Broadcast Journalism Major. You can follow him on Twitter at @EvanBud.