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Archive for Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Lawrence shortstop heads west, finds success

August 16, 2006

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This spring, Driskell Johnson faced one of the hardest decisions he's had to make in his young baseball career.

On one hand, Johnson could stay in Lawrence and play with the same teammates he'd played with in the past. On the other, he could go to Topeka to play with friends he'd played other sports with.

"It was a tough decision for us because he'd played with this other team for three years," Johnson's father Keith said. "We'd made a lot of friends on that team and he had a lot of buddies."

After weighing his options, Johnson, 11, decided to play in Topeka for the Capital City Bombers. His parents supported his decision as they thought it would be good for him to play in Topeka's very competitive 11U division.

Months later, it seemed Johnson made the right decision.

In July the Bombers took second place in the 11U Super Series National Tournament. And along with teammates Ryan Colombo and Johnny Rea, Johnson was named to the Super Series All-Tournament team.

Perhaps most impressive about Driskell's transition to a new team was how seamlessly he made the switch.

Sometimes when a new player comes to town, he isn't always given a warm welcome especially at high profile positions. Not the case for Johnson. He eventually became a regular at shortstop and pitcher for the Bombers and his teammates were glad to have him.

"It was pretty easy for me because I play on other teams in Topeka with them for basketball, so I knew half of the kids," Johnson said.

Even though Johnson was playing in a familiar environment, the division the Bombers played in was classified as a "Major" division the toughest 11U division. Keith Johnson said the biggest difference he noticed at this level was how advanced the pitching was.

Pitchers Johnson faced the previous summer threw fastballs. This summer they were throwing change-ups and breaking balls. Instead of allowing the stronger pitching to throw him off, Johnson adapted and hit better than ever.

"Last year I didn't get any home runs because the fences were longer," Johnson said. "I got a couple home runs this year."

Johnson didn't stop there. He joined in on tricking batters from the pitchers mound.

"I learned to throw a knuckle-curve. Which is a pitch that won't really mess up your arm," Johnson said. "I learned that pitch and a change-up."

As a result, Driskell and the Capital City Bombers had one of the best summers of any 11U team in the nation, finishing the summer with a 53-14 record.

Johnson said the Bombers dominated their competition during the regular season, whether it was a league game or a tournament. The Bombers carried the momentum into the state tournament.

Though officially a "state" event, the Kansas state tournament combined teams from Kansas and Missouri. It was here the Bombers faced the Blue Springs Sliders for the first of two meetings.

The Bombers eliminated the Sliders from the state tournament and went on to earn a second-place finish.

At the Super Series National Tournament, the Bombers lost an early game, forcing them to come up through the loser's bracket.

Keith Johnson said the Bombers played six games in 26 hours in the loser's bracket, but made it out to reach the championship game.

At the end of the run, the Bomber from Lawrence came through in the clutch for his biggest game of the tournament.

"I came in and closed a game that got us into the championship day," Johnson said. "That was probably one of the most important things."

Johnson didn't just come in to face the last few batters of the game. He pitched three innings without surrendering a run.

The Bombers' earned a reward for beating the odds and reaching the championship game the Blue Springs Sliders.

The Bombers showed no signs of fatigue beating the Sliders 4-0 in the first game. However, their run ended the next game, as the Sliders took the National Title.

Johnson's story with the Bombers isn't over yet, though. Keith Johnson said the team has asked his son to return next summer and Driskell is leaning that way.

For now Johnson must avoid any ribbing that may come his way this school year.

"All my old teammates are going to junior high and I'll be in sixth-grade, so I won't see any of them," Driskell said. "It's probably a good thing."

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