Johnson usually delivered for Vikings

Senior Luke Johnson was a preseason All-Stater at both shortstop and pitcher this spring for the Vikings. (Delaware State News file photo)

LEWES — Nobody expected Luke Johnson to make the catch.

Indeed, the Caravel runner who was on third base at the time had already reached home plate.

But Johnson, Cape Henlopen High’s second baseman that day, somehow made a sliding, over-the-shoulder catch in short right field.

He then threw to third for a sixth inning-ending double play for the Vikings, who downed Caravel, 5-3, to win the program’s first DIAA baseball state championship in 2018.

“Running back and sliding, that’s a great play,” Cape pitcher David Erickson said after the game. “That’s a Major League play.”

“It’s something I’ll always remember,” Johnson said this week.

As a senior this spring, Johnson was hoping to make some more big plays for the Vikings. The coronavirus pandemic, though, ended that dream.

Johnson was expected to be one of top baseball players in the state. The 18-year-old Lewes resident was named to the coaches association preseason All-State team at both shortstop (second team) and pitcher (honorable mention).

Luke Johnson, whose father played in the Orioles’ farm system, will continue his baseball career in college at UMBC. (Delaware State News file photo)

Instead, Johnson will turn his attention to college. He’s going to UMBC, where he’s hoping to still be a two-way player.

It’s hardly a surprise that Johnson ended up being a good player for Cape. His dad, Drew, played for Maryland in college and spent a season with the Baltimore Orioles Class A team in 1992.

Johnson’s older brother, Sam, is a sophomore pitcher at Washington College, as well.

Vikings’ coach Ben Evick thought enough of Johnson that he made him a part-time starter when he was only a freshman.

“He kind of has that presence,” said Evick. “He understands the game. That mental aspect was there as a freshman. We knew he had the physical tools to be able to play at that level as a freshman.

“He was well aware of what it takes to be successful — and he stepped right in and did. He performed for us his freshman year and got better and better.”

Last season, Johnson teamed up with senior Mason Fluharty to give the Vikings a pretty impressive pair of starting pitchers.

A first-team All-Henlopen North pick at shortstop, Johnson was a second-team selection at pitcher. He went 7-1 with an ERA of 0.64 and 70 strikeouts in 49.2 innings.

At the plate, Johnson batted .407 with six homeruns and 20 RBI. He struck out 11 in just five innings, and also homered, in Cape’s 3-2 victory over Milford in the second round of the state tournament.

Johnson was then a tough-luck loser in the Vikings’ 4-3 loss to eventual-champion Appoquinimink in the state semifinals. He pitched all seven innings of a contest that was played over two days at Frawley Stadium after being suspended by rain.

“He’s that guy,” said Evick. “That was just another example where he stepped in against a team that was undefeated in state and absolutely threw a phenomenal game. We came up a little bit short but he did his job, above and beyond, against a really high-end team.

“He knew what it felt like to get to the finals and win it — and what it took to do that. He took it hard.”

“It definitely motivated me in the off season to get better,” said Johnson. “It was definitely on my mind this past year. A lot of things could have gone differently.”

Johnson, who also made second-team All-State as a boys’ soccer defender in the fall, would have been the Vikings’ top pitcher this spring. With Cape going 48-16 in his first three baseball seasons, including 8-2 in the state tourney, Johnson was excited to see what the Vikings could accomplish this year.

With no summer-league baseball being played this summer, Johnson is still working out as he gets ready for the fall at UMBC. He wouldn’t mind following in the footsteps of his dad, who batted .339 with 33 RBI in his last season as an infielder at Maryland.

Drew Johnson is a Cape assistant coach.

“He’s always talked about that when I was growing up, encouraging me,” Johnson said about his father’s playing career. “I’ve always wanted to get to go to the next level for baseball.”

Like a lot of high school baseball standouts, Johnson may have to decide between playing the infield — and batting — or pitching in college. To start out, UMBC is going to let him do both.

If Johnson’s college career is anything like his high school career, Evick said people should expect big things from the youngster.

“He’s been a key guy, on and off the field,” said Evick. “He’s been a phenomenal leader for us over those four years. It was pretty exciting to look forward to see what he was going to bring this year as a senior — and be the guy for us.

“Luke made some phenomenal plays the year we won the state championship. … He’s been that guy all four years for us. He’s come up huge.”