At one point in his San Luis Obispo High baseball career, Marco Murillo’s job was to observe.
He was moved up to varsity for the postseason his freshman season. The coaches at the time wanted him to experience what it was like to see baseball at another speed and another level. So he joined the Tigers — on a roster that included older brother David, a junior standout — on the road to Redlands.
He embraced the opportunity. Every bit of it, even though San Luis Obispo lost 3-2 to Redlands East Valley in a first-round playoff game.
The opportunity helped him grow. And soon enough, he became a focal point of one of the best Tigers’ teams in school history. He was a pitcher and solid switch hitter this past season. He did everything well, enough to be named The Tribune’s County Player of the Year after helping the Tigers go 21-7, including a school-best 17-1 in the PAC 7.
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Though his team stumbled in the opening round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoffs, Murillo knew he was a part of something special.“Everyone helped everybody out,” he said. “Usually when we needed a kick, it was the person most unexpected and that was what helped out the most, everybody coming through.”
Murillo helped out on the mound where he had a 0.67 ERA with 56 strikeouts and was able to induce numerous groundball outs. He also was the Tigers’ leadoff hitter in his first season as a switch hitter.
“This year, there’s not one individual on the team that was perceived as all that or the great one,” said Bobby Ryan, who resigned as the San Luis Obispo head coach after two seasons to focus on his business. “But (Murillo) was on and when he was going, he starts the fire. That’s why we put him in the leadoff position. I wanted him to fuel us every game, right off the bat to get us going.”
Being a contact pitcher
Murillo didn’t throw many strikeouts. Fifty-six, to be exact. But that didn’t define his importance. He had a low ERA and frustrated batters by forcing one after another to hit the ball on the ground and let the Tigers’ defense do the rest.
“He pitched to contact this year,” Ryan said. “He’s such a smart pitcher. He basically can throw the baseball when he’s behind in the count. That’s when he gets dominant. He has really good movement on his fastball. He has a really good two-seam fastball. He understands, ‘Hey, if I’m behind in the count, I’m not afraid to throw it.’ He goes right after the hitter. There were games where there were 15, 16 groundballs.”
His selection of pitches included a fastball, slow curveball, slider and a changeup — though Ryan said Murillo’s best pitch was the slider coming off a fastball. Batters struggled against his pitching, evident by the fact that he finished 6-1 with three one-hit games on his way to altering the school record book.
His 0.67 ERA is the lowest single-season mark since the school’s baseball program began keeping records in 1980, better than the 0.76 ERA Trevor Caughey had in 2001. Murillo also has the fourth-most career wins with 17.
“I made sure I threw strikes and let my defense play,” Murillo said. “I don’t have too much stuff that gets blown past them. I had my chances here and there. Mostly, getting everybody involved and working as quickly as possible to get the game going and control the tempo.”
He had a 6-0 record until the playoff opener against Redlands. Despite a seven-strikeout complete game performance, San Luis Obispo ultimately fell 3-2.
“It was kind of a shocker, at least for me,” Murillo said. “I kind of had a flashback to when my brother played (Redlands East Valley).”
Making the switch
Before this season, Murillo was a right-handed batter. He decided to switch for two simple reasons: to become a threat on both sides of the plate and become more appealing to colleges.
He ended up having only a handful of right-handed at-bats.
“I didn’t expect him to hit as well (as he did) left-handed,” Ryan said of Murillo. “It’s a tough transition to do. He started during the summer season and we basically said, ‘If you’re going to do it, you have to commit to it.’ ”
It showed in his final season stats, as he hit .360 — much higher than his .220 average during his junior season as a right-handed batter. The switch will help him as he moves forward with his career and he’ll follow older brother David’s lead and join the Cuesta College baseball team.
But for now, Murillo is reuniting with his brother again on the San Luis Obispo Rattlers, a summer collegiate baseball team. Both players will eventually go their separate ways, with David transferring to NAIA powerhouse Lewis-Clark State in the fall.
Murillo still remembers when he was a freshman at San Luis Obispo, looking up to his brother and the other Tigers on the road to Redlands.
“I really took in how hard he worked and how bad he wanted it,” Marco Murillo said. “Going into my sophomore year, I thought, ‘Well, I have two more years after this.’ But I realized how bad he wanted it and some of his teammates. I realized this is the real deal and this is when it happens.”
In the next couple years, he came into his own.
ALL-COUNTY BASEBALL TEAM
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Marco Murillo, San Luis Obispo, P, Sr.
UTIL — Gunnar Gomez, Arroyo Grande (Sr.)
C — Cameron Petetit, Arroyo Grande (Sr.)
CF — Jordan Morrison, Arroyo Grande (Sr.)
CF/P — Ryan McNeil, Nipomo (Sr.)
CF/P — Marc Baker, Nipomo (Sr.)
OF/P — Mac Stuart, Paso Robles (Sr.)
P — Josh Ramirez, Paso Robles (Sr.)
P — David Casciola, San Luis Obispo (Sr.)
P — Evan Peterson, Templeton (Sr.)
C/P — Tyler Kollmann, Templeton (Sr.)
SS — Garrett Giovannelli, San Luis Obispo (Jr.)
1B — Sean Maguire, San Luis Obispo (Sr.)
P — Kyle Brown, Arroyo Grande (Jr.)
1B/2B — Mike Fisher, Arroyo Grande (Sr.)
CF — Logan Sprouse, Atascadero (Sr.)
SS — Joey Hall, Mission Prep (Jr.)
INF — Rico Caravahlo, Morro Bay (Sr.)
SS/P/C — Keelan Willison, North County Christian (Sr.)
OF — Bailey Gaither, Paso Robles (Fr.)
P/OF — Eli Vargas, Paso Robles (Sr.)
P — Louie Carlos, San Luis Obispo (Sr.)
C — R.J. Hassey, San Luis Obispo (Jr.)
OF — Alex Kotheimer, Templeton (Sr.)
OF — Michael Frigon, Templeton (Jr.)
Atascadero — Michael Baez (C/P, Sr.)
Coast Union — Tommy Howard (1B, So.), Emmany Godinez (UTIL, So.), Grant Magnuson (3B, So.)
Coastal Christian — Brandon Spiller (C/P, So.)
Mission Prep — Anthony Bosshardt (P, Jr.), Trevor Fernandez (1B, So.)
North County Christian — Daniel Katches (C/P/INF, Sr.), Jonathan Katches (SS/P, So.)
Paso Robles — T.J. Durfee (3B, Sr.)
San Luis Obispo — Louie Summer (UTIL, Sr.)
Templeton — James Ralston (OF, Sr.)