Howland starts tourney trail beating Harding

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Howland’s Christopher Tvaroch (9) sets up before scoring a goal against Warren G. Harding goalkeeper Dimitri Callow on Wednesday. Harding players Michael Jordan (4) and Jody Hayes (27) follow the play. Howland won, 4-0.

HOWLAND — Undefeated and 2-0 against Warren G. Harding this season, the Howland boys soccer team still didn’t come into a Division I first-round sectional thinking it was going to cruise by the Raiders.

That didn’t stop them from doing just that.

The Tigers shut out Harding, 4-0, and advanced to face Walsh Jesuit in a sectional bracket final at 7 p.m. Saturday back in Howland.

Moving on wasn’t as easy as the score indicated.

“Harding’s played us tough every single time we’ve played them,” said Howland coach Brian Stiles, whose team beat Harding, 3-0 and 3-1, during the regular season. “It wasn’t real hard to get our guys’ attention when we found out we were going to play Harding.”

The Raiders athleticism and never-give-up attitude was on display from start to finish. Well, almost from the start.

The fourth-seeded Tigers (15-0-2) scored 23 seconds into the game, and it was a momentous goal. Senior David Schwartz set the school record for goals in a career when he was left open at the 39:37 mark of the first half. It was Schwartz’s 59th career goal, breaking the mark Connor Gilmour set in 2012.

“I didn’t expect it to be that quick,” Schwartz said. “That’s what we needed. We put the pressure on after that.”

The goal didn’t exactly deflate the Raiders (5-11-1), who played well in spurts throughout the first half. They did endure some defensive miscues that, along with some deftly placed passes by Howland, led to scoring opportunities for the Tigers. A few diving saves from Harding goalkeeper Dimitri Callow kept the game at 1-0 until the 13:21 mark.

Senior Christopher Tvaroch corralled a deflected throw-in and was able to score easily as he was right in front of the net. Less than nine minute later, Schwartz struck again. He made a quick move on a defender, dribbled left and laced his second goal past a lunging Callow. It was his 31st goal this season (another school record).

Harding coach Tilden Tatebe has seen this act before. He applauded the effort of the Raiders, but a more polished Howland group was too much to overcome.

“Whenever we play Howland, we always bring our best,” he said. “Schwartz and all their guys in the middle, (Manny) Perez on the outside, it’s hard to compete with them. They’re great athletes, and they’ve been playing soccer for a lot of different, very good clubs for a long time. They do a great job. We have a lot of respect for them.”

Most of the Tigers, in fact, have played on the same team for years, and the chemistry was obvious. Passes were often in the exact right spot where a teammate was waiting and had just enough touch that players caught them in stride.

Howland’s starting defense, which has allowed just three goals this season, was equally impressive. The Raiders created a few counter attacks early in the game following Howland’s first goal, but they were denied a clean look each time as Howland players routinely swarmed to the ball and cleared away any mounting opportunities.

“We’ve been working with everybody,” said Schwartz of how Howland utilizes all its players at practice, which has carried over to the games. “We want to get everyone involved. There’s not one single player on the team that we try to get the ball to.

“We’re all really close friends. We do a lot of things together — we hang out all the time — and we’re all really close. That really helps on the field because we know each other so well.”

Tvaroch finished the scoring with a second-half goal at the 20:19 mark.

The Tigers now face Walsh Jesuit, a sixth seed. The Warriors have been to eight state championship games, winning three (their last came in 2006).

“It’s a strong team coming in,” Stiles said, “and we’re going to get to see how we do against the elite of Cleveland.”