TAVARES — They transported Tyler Bakich’s mom from her Valrico home to a Sun City Center hospice Monday. The bone cancer that originated in Colleen Walker’s hips has found its way to her brain.
At the dawn of the two-day Class 2A state tournament, the mere thought of his 56-year-old mom waging the fight of her life moved Bakich nearly to tears. On Wednesday, it moved him to the apex of the leaderboard.
Channeling melancholy into motivation, the 16-year-old Newsome sophomore shot the best round of the 36-hole event — a 5-under 67 — on Wednesday to help propel the Wolves (614 team score) to their second consecutive third-place team finish.
Bakich’s two-day 146 tied him for fourth overall, one shot behind third-place Jimmy Stanger of Gaither and two behind runner-up Brad White of Plant.
“At least I have something to play for,” said Bakich, whose mom won nine times -- including a major -- on the LPGA Tour. “I mean, I had stuff to play for (before), but this has gotten bigger. I have stuff way more important.”
Bakich’s round, which included eight birdies, served as an inspirational microcosm of his team’s collective effort.
Overwhelmed by 30-40 mph gusts and temperatures that dipped below 50 in the opening round, all five Wolves shot lower scores Wednesday, when the wind at Deer Island Country Club subsided mildly and the air upgraded from cold to crisp.
Bakich improved his score by 12 strokes from Tuesday to Wednesday, while sophomore Kyle West and District 10 champ John Michael Coultas improved by eight and seven, respectively. Colin Julian (74) and Brian Allen (79) also stepped up after shooting 80s on Tuesday.
“Everyone played in it (Tuesday) but we were in the last group, so we got a little unlucky being there because it was howling in the afternoon,” Wolves coach Jim Govreau said. “But they’re a tough bunch and they knew they could come out here (and improve).”
By contrast, White remained steady both days, following his even-par 72 on Tuesday with 1-under 71 to lead Plant, which tied for sixth (626).
Like Newsome, every Panther shot better on Wednesday, with junior Todd Sessums following his opening-round 87 with a 75. Senior Ryan Gendron (152) was Plant’s second-best finisher.
Stanger, a University of Virginia commitment who won the District 9 and Region 3 tournaments, followed his opening-day 74 with 71, thanks to a steady driver.
“Just pounded it down the middle every hole,” he said.
In the girls 2A tournament at nearby Lady Lake, Freedom sophomore Terese Romeo shot 79 both days to finish in a tie for 11th. Romeo, the Region 4 champion, was one of only seven golfers in the field to eclipse 80 both days.
Steinbrenner’s girls finished with a two-day 733 total to place 14th.
Class A: Academy of the Holy Names junior Emmy Martin followed her opening-round 79 with a 4-over 76 to tie for 15th and lead the Jaguars to a 12th-place finish (696). Carrollwood Day sophomore Claudia Rami was the area’s No. 2 finisher, tying for 21st (158).
In the boys tournament at Howey-in-the-Hills, Tampa Catholic struggled to a 13th-place finish (668) in its first team appearance at state. Three golfers -- Anthony Pascua, Joe Testerman and Ryan Williams -- each finished with a two-day 166.