KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The 15-2-4 Jumbos dominated their national semifinal matchup against the 17-5-4 Battling Bishops of Ohio Wesleyan, prevailing 3-0 on a rainy afternoon. Tufts will play in their first NCAA national championship and have now won a single-season school-record 15 games. Matt Zinner scored once and Gus Santos netted two for the Jumbos who will face Wheaton (Ill.) Saturday afternoon.
Right from the opening whistle Tufts carried possession, and it didn't take them long to get on the board. Just under two minutes, Zinner, a freshman defender, found himself just inside the 18-yard box with the ball on his foot. He took a few dribbles with his back to goal, then turned and struck a low ball on goal with his left foot. It carved a path through Battling Bishops defenders and landed in the back of the net past Ohio Wesleyan goalkeeper Colin Beemiller. The goal was Zinner's first of the season, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
Momentum immediately shifted in the Jumbos' favor. Minutes later, Tufts looked like they would add to their lead as Maxime Hoppenothad a breakaway opportunity, but his shot sprayed just wide.
In arguably Ohio Wesleyan's best chance of the match, Scott Greenwood came out beyond the box to clear the ball and thus was forced to use his head. The attempt fell right to senior midfielder Colton Bloecher's feet and he struck the ball on net, but a retreating Greenwood was able to recover just quickly enough to make a diving stop.
Around the 30-minute mark, Tufts again upped their offensive pressure. Three quick set pieces, a free kick and two corners, stifled the Ohio Wesleyan charge and put the Battling Bishops on their heels. During this stretch, the Jumbos displayed beautiful one-touch passing through the midfield.
Later, with just under 20 minutes to play in the half, Zach Hallidayreceived a yellow card that set up a free kick for Ohio Wesleyan ten yards outside the box. The ball floated in and senior defender Drew Pang got his head to the ball, but it sailed high.Just before halftime, Connor Brown made a skilled slicing run through defenders along the top of the box, but his shot was blocked.
The half would come to an end with the 1-0 tally, but Tufts controlled play. The Jumbos allowed just two shots in the frame, only one of which was on goal. Tufts had seven corners to Ohio Wesleyan's zero.
The second half started much like the first, with the Jumbos coming out fast. Less than ten minutes in, Brown made a run directly down the middle of the field into the box and gave a leading pass wide right to Hoppenot. Hoppenot caught up with it and placed a pretty ball on the ground back towards the top of the box where a streaking Santos ran onto it and one-timed a hard right-footer past Beemiller to give Tufts the 2-0 advantage.
The Battling Bishops pushed back on the next possession. Sophomore forward Kyle Baum became open on the right flank and sent in a dangerous low ball across the goal mouth that forced Sam Williams to make a sliding clear.
The Ohio Wesleyan attack was not sustained, however, as just minutes later, right before the 60-minute mark, Santos struck again. The ball started with freshman midfielder Kevin Halliday on the right wing who made a speedy run down the field. He found Jason Kayne in the middle who then switched field to Santos on the left. Santos was given yards of space and ran at his defender taking him one-on-one and catching him off balance. As the defender stepped back, Santos took his opportunity. He rifled a low ball into the net for his second of the game. The tallies were Santos' eighth and ninth marks of the season.
With the clock winding down, the Battling Bishops desperately tried to get going offensively. At the top of the box, forward Taylor Rieger fired a ball off the bounce, but it deflected off of Peter Lee-Kramer on its path towards goal and went out for a corner.
Due to the offensive stance Ohio Wesleyan was forced to adopt, their defense lacked numbers. Freshman midfielder Stephen McMillian turned with the ball on the left wing and sent a pass ahead to Nate Majumder. Majumder held the ball up, turned, and got off a right-footed shot that Beemiller had to dive at to stop.
In the ninth minute, Bloecher slid a ball to junior forward Evan Lee who was making a slashing run across the top of the box, but his shot hit high on the outside netting. Later, junior defender Matt DiCesare's shot went out for a corner. In the ensuing action, Pang took a shot as he turned on goal and it hit the post.
The Tufts defense suffocated Bloecher, who was tied for 13th in the nation in goals with 18, holding him to just one shot. Meanwhile, his season shot total is 97. The Battling Bishops got off nine shots, far lower than their 17 shots per game average.
It was Greenwood's 11th shutout of the season and the Jumbos' 12th overall. That's now four consecutive shutouts dating back to the Jumbos' second-round game against Wheaton (Mass.).
Beemiller made five saves for the Battling Bishops, while Greenwood denied three shots on net.
Tufts will compete with Wheaton (Ill.) in the NCAA national championship on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET.