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As the Kansas City Monarchs keep on winning, a former KU Jayhawks closer has impressed

A 21-year-old Zack Leban emerged as one of the top relievers in the Big 12 for the Kansas Jayhawks in 2018.

Now, a 27-year-old seasoned professional after years within the Miami Marlins’ system is back to his best in the Sunflower State.

The right-hander has shined in the early season for the Kansas City Monarchs. The Monarchs have won all three games that Leban has appeared in. The club is 6-3 overall.

“It’s been awesome,” Leban said. “Being around a bunch of friends, my parents are coming (to a game this week). I’m super excited for that.”

Leban’s final season in Lawrence was one to remember. He was named to two NCAA midseason watch lists after earning nine saves just one month into the season.

The reliever attended Kansas to follow his father and close family’s steps. Leban grew up in the Pacific Northwest, a place that forged his love for baseball.

“Growing up, we would always play in the rain,” Leban said. “Every game would be a grind.”

Leban has had to work for everything throughout his baseball career. He earned his way through the KU bullpen with consistent campaigns in 2016 and 2017 before emerging as the Jayhawks’ closer.

Leban feels he’s been pushed to be his best by several people around him, including Kansas City Monarchs pitcher Jackson Goddard, another former Kansas Jayhawk.

“He works really hard and holds me accountable, just when I see what he’s doing,” Leban said of Goddard.

Leban has emerged as one of the most reliable arms for seventh-year manager Joe Calfapietra. His first three appearances have been high-leverage spots, and Leban has passed the tests with flying colors.

He struck out four in his debut at Sioux Falls, earning his first American Association save on May 11.

Leban’s introduction to Legends Field was daunting, facing a bases-loaded situation against the Winnipeg Goldeyes. The righty recorded an inning-ending strikeout, then proceeded to fan three more Winnipeg batters in his outing.

“Any time you’re pitching in a close game, there’s definitely a little more on the line,” Leban said. “It’s fun to come in, game on the line, do or die, and you’re trusted.”

The 27-year-old has started the year on a tear, recording nine strikeouts and allowing zero runs in his first 5 1/3 innings.

Leban and the Monarchs continue a 10-game homestand this week at Legends Field against the Kane County Cougars and Lincoln Saltdogs.

The team hosts a championship flag giveaway night on Friday night and Star Wars night on Saturday. Both games start at 6:35 p.m.