The best present

WARREN – Since Tilden Tatebe took over the Warren G. Harding program six years ago, the Raiders first tournament match has fallen on or around his birthday (Oct. 15), and every year, he asks his players for the program’s first postseason win as their birthday gift to him.

On Wednesday night at Mollenkopf Stadium, Tatebe finally got his wish. In a Division I sectional semifinal, Harding routed Bedford, 7-1, to record the boys soccer program’s first ever tournament win after almost 20 years of existence.

“I’m more happy for Tilden,” senior goalkeeper Austin Vingle said. “Every year on his birthday, he tells us, ‘I just want a playoff win.’ Finally, we got to give him his gift.”

In order for Harding (8-6-3) to get the win, it needed a little luck and a favorable draw, which is exactly what it got. The 11th seed going into the tournament, the Raiders received a home match against Bedford (0-17-2), a team they beat by a combined score of 11-0 over two matches in the regular season.

Tatebe said the team received a little divine help to get that draw.

“We talked about it, and how this season was, we gave all our wins and losses to God,” Tatebe said. “We were the 11th seed, we got a home game against Bedford – I mean, that’s unreal. That’s a God thing right there.”

The night was not only special for the program, but individual feats and big plays, such as Torrence Harper’s back-heel goal in the 55th minute to give Harding seven goals on the night, made it a memorable one.

To go along with the fall of Harding’s winless tournament run, Vingle took the single-season saves record off of Tatebe’s eldest son, Caleb, who set a mark of 148 back in the 2007 season. Vingle broke that mark by blocking a penalty kick in the 68th minute with relative ease.

Vingle said he was more concerned with trying to get the win instead of the individual record, but breaking the mark in such a key situation made it special for him.

“In the first half, it was because I heard someone scream, ‘That’s one!’ ” Vingle said. “From then on out (the Bedford goal), my mind was just to get the saves. Whether I get seven, whether I get two more, whether I get 40 more, I just wanted to make sure we didn’t get scored on again.”

Although the match ended in a rout, it was close after 23 minutes, when Bedford equalized and held that scoreline until the half-hour mark. The Raiders really didn’t blow it open until the first 10 minutes of the second half, when they increased a two-goal advantage to five.

Tatebe said he liked the energy from his team, but the performance wasn’t flawless.

“We had a couple momentary lapses,” Tatebe said. “When they scored that goal, we lost concentration there. That should have never happened, but overall, the effort was good. Bedford gave us a good match for quite a bit of the game. They played hard. We played them three times this year, this was by far the best game they’ve played against us.”

Now, the Raiders turn their sights on the first-seeded Aurora Greenmen, who finished the season with a 9-2-4 record. After the win over Bedford, the players and coach said the gameplan will be much different from the one they used against the Bearcats.

“We’re going to play with composure and go on from there,” said Jordan Hernon, who scored three goals on Wednesday. “It’s going to take us packing it in, staying back and playing smart.”

While admitting Harding will need to play a near flawless match against Aurora, Vingle said he believes the team has a chance.

“Better than we’ve ever played,” said Vingle when asked about what it would take to beat the Greenmen. “I think we can do it. You have to go in thinking you can do it, or you won’t ever do it.”