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BLOOMINGTON - Among Steve Clapp's duties tonight will be to fill out the lineup card for the Intercity in the 51st annual Pantagraph All-Star Baseball Game.

It will require some deliberation, but this much is certain: Bloomington High School's Zach Watkins will be the starting pitcher, and Normal Community's Cody Gilles will bat in the heart of the order.

When you have the Big 12 Conference pitcher of the year (Watkins) and Big 12 co-offensive player of the year (Gilles), you build the lineup around them.

"Zach (Watkins) deserves to start, not so much on my opinion, but all of the coaches in the Big 12," said Clapp, the Intercity head coach and Watkins' coach at BHS. "It was a pretty one-sided vote (for pitcher of the year). You couldn't vote for your own player, and I believe the vote was 9-1.

"Cody (Gilles) is a special kid. He takes a great approach at the plate. He's going to be our cornerstone on the offensive side. If we can put guys around him and put people on base, he can be a guy who can produce for us."

The Intercity faces the Area at 6 o'clock at Illinois Wesleyan's Horenberger Field, with pregame ceremonies set for 5:45.

Watkins was 6-0 with two saves and a 2.38 earned run average this spring, helping BHS to the Big 12 championship. The Heartland College-bound right-hander struck out 59 and walked 19 in 50 innings.

Watkins excelled as the Purple Raiders' ace after taking lessons from former Illinois State pitching coach Tim Johnson in the offseason.

"I think that helped a lot," Watkins said. "He focused on doing the proper mechanics and working on pitches.

"I think both my curve and changeup were a lot better from working with him. If you can throw offspeed stuff when you're behind in the count, the hitters will be guessing the whole time."

Clapp called Johnson "a great resource" for Watkins, who he said also benefited from the work of BHS catcher Casey Pyne and Raiders' pitching coach Evan Leathers.

"We tried not to complicate things too much," Clapp said. "We just wanted to keep him straight and pounding the strike zone. Zach had good seasons as a sophomore and junior, so this was the next step in the process."

Gilles belted 11 home runs to go with a .388 average and 35 RBI for NCHS. Like Watkins, he was tutored by a Tim in the offseason: former major-leaguer Tim Bogar.

"We focused on waiting back and working with my hands, making sure I focused on getting them to the ball first," said Gilles, an infielder who will join Watkins at Heartland. "I had five (home runs) last year and 13 doubles. It seemed like my doubles turned into home runs this year.

"I definitely wasn't thinking about (hitting home runs). When I found myself thinking about it, I would pop up or strike out."

The Intercity, looking to snap a two-game losing streak to the Area, also will have University High's Tyler Cook (.491) and BHS' Dennis Koth (.458) to supply some offense.

Area coach Mark Brown of Fieldcrest likes his team's pitching staff, which includes Lucas Cook of Heyworth, Pontiac's Eric Davis, Royce Duncan of Lincoln, Fieldcrest's Kiel Melvin and Mark Oyer of Tremont.

Cook was the Area strikeout leader with 94, while Oyer was 8-0 with a 0.28 ERA. Offensively, the Area is paced by Eureka infielder B.J. Zobrist (.512, 18 doubles), Mahomet-Seymour outfielder Neil Wright (.512) and Clinton outfielder Bo Kinder (.474).

"I think our pitching will be good and defensively I think we'll be solid," said Brown, who guided Fieldcrest to the Heart of Illinois Conference title and Class A sectional finals. "We'll see how we hit the baseball.

"If you can make plays, that's a key. You just hope you can make plays defensively and give your guys a chance to hit and score runs."

Brown expects a hard-fought game, saying, "It doesn't matter if you're playing for pride or for a trophy, if you're a player the competitiveness will take over."

Batter up!

What: 51st annual Pantagraph All-Star Baseball Game

When: 6 p.m. today (pregame ceremonies at 5:45 p.m.)

Where: Illinois Wesleyan's Horenberger Field

Tickets: $5 (12 and under free)

Series: Intercity leads 29-21

Proceeds: Benefit the American Junior Baseball Program



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