John Beller walked off the mound with a straight face. His expression didn't convey the excitement he felt after having another successful outing. Beller threw eight innings against Loyola Marymount, and gave up just one run on two hits.
As a freshman, Beller is a symbol of the new faces leading Trojan baseball. After finishing dead last in the Pac-12 standings, USC is determined to leave their 2017 season in the past and exceed this year's expectations.
"It's a new team," Coach Hubbs said, "It's still a young team, but they're a little bit more experienced and they're learning how to win."
The preseason standings poll, selected by Pac-12 baseball coaches, predicted USC would finish ninth out of 11 in 2018.
Last season, USC was .382 overall and .267 in conference. The team earned only 21 wins.
This year, the Trojans are currently 18-16 in the 2018 season, and should be able to earn more wins than last year with 20 games left to play.
One thing that has helped the Trojans improve this season is the freshman class. Out of the 12 rookies added to the squad, seven of those athletes are pitchers. That means seven more chances to improve on last year's team ERA of 5.56, the worst in the Pac-12.
Beller is leading the freshman pitchers with a 2.77 ERA over 26 innings of work.
"Beller's confident with three pitches he can throw anytime in the count," Coach Hubbs said. "He really attacks and he gives us a great start. He can pick us up any weekend."
While Beller has the most wins out of the freshmen pitchers, Kyle Hurt and Brian Gursky are also performing well.
In March, Hurt pitched 7 2-3 no-hit innings. He was followed by Connor Lunn and Austin Manning who helped to throw a combined no-hitter. It was the program's seventh no-hitter in school history, and the most recent since 1986.
"It was pretty amazing to be able to participate in a no-hitter at the collegiate level," Lunn said after the game. "It hasn't happened in a long time here at USC, so it was special to be a part of."
While the reinforcements to the pitching staff have been helpful, another area Hubbs is focusing on is the team's offense. Last season, USC hovered around the middle of the Pac-12 in terms of batting average and runs scored.
“It was pretty amazing to be able to participate in a no-hitter at the collegiate level. It hasn’t happened in a long time here at USC, so it was special to be a part of.”
Freshman Ben Ramirez has been one of the keys to the Trojan's offense this year. His .276 average and 13 RBIs have helped the Trojans in games against the University of Arizona and UC Santa Barbara.
Another advantage the team has this year is the addition of junior transfer Chase Bushor to the lineup.
Bushor hit .287 as a sophomore at Georgetown with 21 RBIs and 25 runs scored. For USC, he's leading the team with a .304 average and 12 RBIs. He's also started in all but two games.
Taking on the role of starting second baseman, the new Trojan has been the key to several victories this season.
"I talked to USC early in the recruiting process and really wanted to come here," Bushor said. "I went to Georgetown and had a chance to play there. I broke my wrist and missed a season and decided it was time to follow my dreams and play for USC."
As the son of two USC alum, Bushor said his decision to attend USC is something he's very proud of.
Now in cardinal and gold, Bushor's contributions offensively have been important. Despite his success at the plate, the former Hoya said that his defense is his best asset.
"I take a lot of pride in my defense, it's really my game," Bushor said. "Playing defense is where I have fun, so I love playing in the field to help my team win."
And defense is where the 2018 Trojans thrive.
The team has only committed 20 errors throughout the season, while other teams like ASU and the University of Washington have double that amount.
They currently lead the Pac-12 with a .984 fielding percentage, and are third among all NCAA division one teams. In early April, the team was even ranked first in the country.
"We have very talented defenders, and haven't made a lot of mistakes," Hubbs said. "I think we've done a great job. The infield, outfield and behind the plate have really stressed knowing where the ball needs to go and how to only make the necessary throws."
Collectively, the team has only committed 20 errors throughout the season, while other teams like ASU and the University of Washington have double that amount.
Hubbs attributes some of the team's early conference wins against ASU and Utah University to the team's defensive success. In the game against ASU, redshirt third baseman junior Angelo Armenia had a strong game and prevented more sun devil runs by turning a key double play to end the fifth inning.
With only four Pac-12 conference series left, including Oregon State and Washington State, the Trojans are over halfway through conference play. The Beavers and Cougars are a spot above and below USC in the rankings, and Hubbs said these upcoming series are very important for the team.
“If we string a few at bats together, pound the strike zone and play quality defense, then I think there’s no doubt we can beat anybody in the country.”
While it may not be possible for the Trojans to take first in conference this year, the team should finish higher than last season, and put themselves in a good position for next year. The currently young team will have a year of experience playing together as they head into the 2018-2019 season, and will add more key pieces to their lineup.
The team has already verbally committed two standout high school hitters, Gabe Briones and Jasiah Dixon.
As the end of the season approaches, Hubbs said the overall goal of every season is to make it to the NCAA tournament. Although USC has only made the tournament once in the last decade, the team hasn't ruled postseason out for this year.
"We're in a solid position in league, and I think we're prime right now," Hubbs said. "If we string a few at bats together, pound the strike zone and play quality defense, then I think there's no doubt we can beat anybody in the country."