When Wichita State baseball coach Gene Stephenson searches for a comparison to Tyler Coughenour, he finds a player even new Shocker fans can remember.
Their memory need only stretch to 2007, when a stocky player from Newton, Iowa, helped WSU win a regional title with a game-winning hit against Arizona.
"Derek Schermerhorn," Stephenson said. "He just played the game hard. He got key hits, and never let things bother him too much."
Coughenour, a freshman third baseman from Collegiate, is piling up Schermerhorn-like moments in recent games. Both were high school linebackers who play baseball with a football intensity. Both run well, are solidly built and aren't afraid of contact. On Tuesday, Coughenour broke up a double play with a clean, hard slide into Oral Roberts' second baseman. Last weekend, he beat out an infield hit against Creighton with a head-first slide — the kind coaches don't recommend.
"That was a cinch double play," Stephenson said. "It was a clean slide, straight through the bag. Most guys won't do that. Most guys don't come in that hard."
WSU (30-23, 9-6 Missouri Valley Conference) plays Indiana State (24-22, 6-9) in a three-game series beginning at 6:30 tonight at Eck Stadium. The Shockers are in second place, one game behind Creighton with six to play.
"I've always been told to play baseball like a football player," Coughenour said. "Coaches like that stuff, a special-teams mentality."
Coughenour's contributions have been key to keeping the Shockers in the race. In 16 straight starts at third he is hitting .321 and compiled a nine-game hitting streak.
"It helps you get in a groove when you're in the lineup," he said. "You always start to feel more comfortable with more time playing."
Coughenour earns that with his offensive versatility and improving defense while learning at third. He is WSU's best bunter, willing and able to bunt for a hit.
"He finds ways to get on base," roommate and teammate Josh Halbert said. "He's that old-school type play of player, always going hard."
Coughenour started high school in California, where his team sometimes practiced games when every batter had to bunt. He bunted for a hit in 16 straight games one season. He moved back to Wichita and played his junior and senior years at Collegiate, playing catcher and shortstop.
"I was the two-hole hitter in California and bunted a lot," he said.
Coughenour's freshman season at WSU didn't go smoothly at first. He started out as a reserve. When sophomore Erik Harbutz injured his shoulder in early March, Coughenour took over. Even when things didn't go well, he kept his mind right. Stephenson values his ability to forget a bad at-bat.
"If you dwell on a bad at-bat, that's going to bring you all the way down the rest of the game," Coughenour said.
He learned not to pout early in his baseball career, when his father coached him. He reserved a batting helmet, spray-painted pink, for players who sulked in the dugout after a strikeout or similar misfortune.
"You didn't want to be wearing the pink helmet," Coughenour said. "I wore it once — one time, that's all I needed."