Cody Nulph is not an overnight success this season, as much as he is an everyday success. The sun sets, the sun rises, and the Orange Coast College shortstop gets close to two hits every game, plays solid defense and lifts those around him with his upbeat personality.
With the Orange Empire Conference Player of the Year hitting in the No. 3 spot, the Pirates (33-9) carry a 12-game winning streak into the four-team state championship tournament that begins Saturday.
OCC, making its fourth state tournament appearance in 10 seasons, is bidding for the program's fifth state crown, adding to those claimed in 2009, 1980, 1960 and 1956. The Pirates play College of the Sequoias (33-11) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Fresno City College to open the double-elimination format that will conclude Monday.
Nulph, an Orange Lutheran High graduate who played at Pepperdine last season, is signed to continue next season at Auburn. This season has been a bounce-back campaign after hitting .165 in 36 starts at Pepperdine.
"It wasn't a good fit for me," Nulph said of the Malibu-based school, from which he chose to rebound at OCC because of the fun atmosphere created by 22-year coach John Altobelli.
"After I let Pepperdine, I talked to OCC, Cypress and Fullerton," said Nulph, who has hit .430 during his current 27-game hitting streak that has boosted his batting average to .409. "After talking with [Altobelli], I felt this was probably the best place for me, the best fit. And I couldn't have been more right. Having fun is very important to me. That's why I play the game."
Nulph has been playing baseball since he was 5 and eschewed other sports to compete on the diamond year-round.
"I wasn't good at anything else," said Nulph, who is tied for the state lead with 70 hits, has one home run, 17 doubles and 30 runs batted in. He has a .457 on-base percentage and is slugging .538. He has 22 multi-hit games with two four-hit outings and seven three-hit days. He has hit in 37 of his 41 games. "I have always liked the process of baseball. I have loved practice. And I always loved hitting."
Nulph honed his game with Team Anderson travel-ball program run by former Costa Mesa High standout Charles Chatman, who is now the coach at Tustin High. He has taken private infield instruction for about 10 years from Oakland Athletics scout Eric Martins.
But when it comes to swinging the bat, the majority of his gains have been made in the solitude of his personal batting cage at his home in Orange.
"The cage, for me is a place I can go to focus very specifically on things I need to work on," Nulph said. "I hit off a tee in the cage, and also off a pitching machine. I just try to work on hitting the ball as hard as I can right back and the machine. I usually hit at my house the morning before every game. For me, that helps me get ready for the game mentally and mechanically. Hitting is all about confidence. I think if you can't go [to the plate] with confidence, you are more than likely to fail. So, [the home batting cage] is where I kind of gather that confidence."
Perhaps no hitter in the state is as confident as Nulph right now. In six Southern California playoff games, he is 13 for 28 (a .464 clip), with four RBIs, though his production can sometimes be almost subtle.
"He is a kid who you don't always notice, until you look at the box score and see that he got two hits and he made every play for you on defense," Altobelli said. "He has done a lot for us with his play and his leadership. The biggest thing he has brought has been consistency."
"My best tool is probably consistency," Nulph said. "This year has been a good year. I think it has more to do with the team chemistry than anything else. I think it's a lot easier to succeed when everyone is having fun and I think the environment plays a huge role in the performance of the team and individuals. We're all on the same page and we all have the same goals. We all are playing to win and when you're winning, you are having fun."