High School Sports

Prep Baseball: Tigers earn fifth-place finish at SLO spring invitational

San Luis Obispo High coach Casey Candaele, center, and a Tigers player congratulate David Murillo after he hit a two-run homer in Friday’s game.
San Luis Obispo High coach Casey Candaele, center, and a Tigers player congratulate David Murillo after he hit a two-run homer in Friday’s game. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

It’s not the San Luis Obispo High baseball team’s style to water down its nonleague schedule and inflate its overall record.

The Tigers don’t mind taking losses if they ultimately help them prepare to defend their PAC 7 championship. After opening its 35th annual invitational 1-2 earlier this week, San Luis Obispo (6-5-1) defeated Foothill of Redding 7-5 on Friday to take fifth place among 12 teams at the tournament.

“Some people might not like it because it makes our record look worse, but personally I like it,” Tigers shortstop Scott Shields said of the aggressive nonleague scheduling. “We come into league used to playing all these Division I, top teams in the state, and then we’re coming out playing competitively. I think it helps us a lot.”

Friday’s win came on the heels of a Thursday doubleheader split, as the Tigers fell 6-5 to San Ramon Valley (ranked No. 4 in the CIF-North Coast Section by MaxPreps.com) before winning 2-1 over Alemany (ranked eighth in the most recent official Southern Section Division 2 poll).

“We played four really good teams in this tournament,” San Luis Obispo coach Casey Candaele said. “We were in position to win all four games, so we battled and played hard. That’s what you’re looking for in a tournament type of situation, getting yourself ready going into league.”

The Tigers, who started 3-0 against the PAC 7, will return to league play by opening a three-game series against Nipomo at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Shields, a senior, was a single shy of hitting for the cycle in the tournament finale, going a team-best 3 for 4 with a double, a triple and a home run.

Dylan Candaele, Michael Nieporte, Conor Mulvaney and David Murillo all added a pair of hits for the Tigers, with the first three accounting for an RBI apiece and Murillo driving in two runs.

On the mound, junior starter Sean Mullen earned the win, striking out three batters, walking two and scattering six hits and three runs over five innings.

“That was an outstanding performance from somebody who hasn’t thrown a lot of innings,” Casey Candaele said of Mullen, who appeared to be finding a groove following a transition period after basketball season. Dakota Wells and Louie Summer then came on to pitch solid innings of relief to preserve the win.

The Tigers established their biggest lead of the game in the top of the sixth inning — they were designated the away team — when Murillo blasted a two-run homer over the center-field wall before Shields made it back-to-back homers with a solo shot to left.

But the Cougars, who entered ranked No. 2 in the Northern Section, mounted a rally in the bottom of the sixth, pulling to within 6-4.

“There are always good teams in this tournament,” Murillo said. “It just gets us ready for the teams in our league and (in the postseason).”

San Luis Obispo got out of trouble soon afterward before tacking on an insurance run on a Mulvaney RBI single in the top of the seventh.

In 2009, the Tigers went 23-6 overall and 15-3 in league before advancing to the Division 2 quarterfinals (where they lost by a run in extra innings) — the furthest the school had gone since winning the Division 4 championship in 2000. Last year’s squad, however, graduated its top five RBI leaders.

“We’re not going to have as much power as last year,” Murillo said, “but we have a better pitching staff and a better defense, all-around.”

Despite Friday’s two homers, Shields agreed that the offense will have to rely more on small ball.

“Last year we had bigger, more powerful guys,” Shields said. “This year we’re a scrappier, ground-ball type of team with, I think, the best pitching staff in the county.”

Murillo, who went 8-1 as a junior, leading the league with a 1.21 ERA, entered Friday with a 1.05 ERA through 20 innings, while fellow senior Jonathan Breneman had also been stout, with a 2.14 ERA through 161⁄3 innings.

“I think we have the most depth,” Shields said. “We may not have that No. 1 (position) player (in the area), but we have a handful of really good players.”