Senior's leadership key for KC baseball team

Third baseman anchors lineup for Broncos team in transition

Karl Schneider
  • Van Duren finished the 2016 season with a .338 batting average and led KC with 24 RBIs.
  • The Broncos enter 2017 under new head coach Danny Secrest.
  • Van Duren has been a member of the varsity roster since he was in the eighth grade.

BLOOMFIELD — The Kirtland Central baseball team is going through some changes under new head coach Danny Secrest this season, and fortunately for the Broncos, they have a strong leader in Zach Van Duren.

Kirltand Central's Zach Van Duren bats against Shiprock on Thursday at John Gutierrez Field in Bloomfield.

Van Duren, a senior and the team's captain this season, has been on the varsity roster at KC since he was in the eighth grade and has improved his production on the field and leadership in the dugout every season.

"Zach is definitely a confident, great kid. His attitude is great, and he's a hard worker," Secrest said. "He leads by example on the field, and off the field, he's a 4.0 student. He's a super kid to be around. He definitely has the mindset of a baseball player."

Van Duren's confidence and excitement were as high as possible in today's game against Shiprock in the first round of the Bloomfield Invitational at John Gutierrez Field.

With his team down 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh with two runners on and two outs, Van Duren turned back toward the KC dugout before he made his way to the batter's box and told his teammates, "I'm going to win us the game right here." But he never got the chance.

Kirtland Central's Zach Van Duren, right, throws to Cameron Pinkerton for an out against Taos on March 29 at Kirtland Central High School.

Shiprock elected to intentionally walk Van Duren to load the bases instead of giving the senior — who batted .338 with 24 RBIs last season — a chance to win the game.

"I was upset, to be honest," Van Duren said. "I wanted to help my team."

The next KC hitter grounded out to give Shiprock the win.

The loss was another reminder to the Broncos that they're still figuring things out in the early part of the season, and Van Duren knows Secrest is looking to him to help the team through the process.

As a leader, Secrest praised Van Duren's ability to connect with the younger players on the team and help them in practice.

For Van Duren, being a team leader comes with a simple philosophy.

"I just try to be a friend to them," he said. "You can't be a dictator. If you can become their friend, they'll trust you."

On the field, the Broncos use Van Duren in a variety of ways.

At the plate, Secrest moved the senior to the top of the order in part to provide the team with a spark early in the game and to force opposing teams to pitch to him.

On the defensive side, Van Duren plays third base most of the time, but moves to shortstop as needed. Secrest said Van Duren's ability to play multiple positions is a testament to how good he is and demonstrates his willingness to help the team in any way.

"We could put him anywhere in the field, and I think he'd be happy as long as he's in the lineup," Secrest said. "He plays well everywhere he goes. We could put him in the outfield, and he'd love it. He just wants to play, and being on the field is kind of sacred ground for him."

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.