Citadel’s Watcher plays on without twin brother

The Citadel’s Jacob Watcher is 5-3 with a 4.12 ERA as a pitcher this season. (SoCon photo)

Even as tow-headed toddlers in Sumter, the Watcher twins had a baseball reputation.

“People said, ‘These two kids are going to be good players,’” said Brooks Shumake, the coach at Sumter High School.

That reputation was well-earned. Philip and Jacob Watcher grew up playing baseball together, eventually helping their high school team to two state championships and starring for the noted Sumter P-15s American Legion team. When the brothers received scholarship offers to play at The Citadel — where their late father, Tony, had played — the Watchers’ baseball partnership seemed destined to last at least another four years.

The twins’ story took a sad twist earlier this season, however, when Philip was one of three Citadel players dismissed from the program for a violation of team rules. That left Jacob, a 5-9, 150-pound sophomore, playing baseball without his twin brother for the first time in his life.

“We’ve never not been on the same team,” Jacob said. “Not at all.”

It’s been almost a month since the three players were first suspended, and it’s not gotten much easier for Jacob to accept. The 15-27 Bulldogs, who host Furman in a Southern Conference series this weekend, lost 12 of 13 games after the suspensions were first announced.

“It’s been tough,” said Jacob, who plays second base and has evolved into the Bulldogs’ Sunday starter on the pitcher’s mound. “It still bothers me right now; I’m not completely over it. But what can you do?

“I’m just trying to be a good teammate, to do my role with him or without him, and help the team win.”

Watcher twin lore includes the scar under Jacob’s right eye, put there when Philip accidentally clipped him with a golf club when they were 8 years old.

“That’s how people would tell us apart,” Jacob said.

At Sumter High, both twins pitched and manned the middle of the infield. Philip threw a four-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts when Sumter beat Northwestern to win the Class AAAA state title in 2014, finishing the season with a 28-2-1 record and ranked sixth in the nation.

They also got into each other’s faces.

“They were sibling rivals, even though they were twins,” Shumake said. “They checked each other’s egos every day. They had checks and balances on each other’s ego, that’s for sure. But they were always competitors and were always going to do what was best for the team.”

Said Jacob, “If you ask anyone who’s been around us, we seem like we hate each other. And it’s not just baseball, we get after each other about everything — golf, ping-pong, you name it.”

The twins shared a room until high school and got their start in baseball due to their father, Tony, who graduated from The Citadel in 1982. He died of cancer at age 45, when the twins were just 9 years old.

“Tony nurtured them in baseball,” said Shumake, who knew the elder Watcher.

“He was our role model from the time we were young,” Jacob said. “I remember him wrestling around with us and coaching Little League baseball, just being a good dad to his kids. That’s how we want to be.”

Sumter, a baseball-crazy town where the American Legion team is still a big deal, has supplied The Citadel with many good players through the years.

“Jacob is your typical Sumter P-15 American Legion product,” Bulldogs coach Fred Jordan said. “He follows a long list of Sumter players in true fashion. As a pitcher, three pitches for strikes. As a hitter, he grinds every at-bat. And as a defender, he plays to get dirty.”

Despite the loss of the three dismissed starters, the Bulldogs managed to take two of three last weekend from Western Carolina, the SoCon’s top team at the time. Sophomore J.P. Sears (also from Sumter) pitched six innings of one-run ball in a 2-1 win on Friday, and Jacob Watcher (5-3, 4.12 ERA) allowed two runs over five innings in a 6-4 win on Sunday as the Bulldogs improved to 5-7 in the league.

“We just want a chance to run deep in the SoCon tournament,” Jacob said. “We’re still looking for another pitcher to step up. At Wofford, we had a chance to win two of three and blew it. But last weekend was a big step up for us and our bullpen, and we just want to keep it going.”