WESTPORT — Of the many accomplishments made by the Staples boys lacrosse team during an ascension since Paul McNulty took over as coach, the one noticeable void was the absence of a victory in the conference playoffs.
For a team that has recently been to two state finals, that is a tribute to the strength of the FCIAC.
That blank was filled in Saturday afternoon in as impressive a manner possible: scoring the final seven goals for a 13-8 win over a Greenwich team that is as talented a fifth seed as there has ever been in an FCIAC sport.
The rally came after the Wreckers relinquished a four-goal advantage and fell behind, 8-6, midway through the third quarter.
“Both teams, us and them, did not give up,” McNulty said. “We went up, they came back. Both teams showed that excellent character and heart that every coach wants. We just happened to have enough at the end. We just happened to get the last couple of goals.”
Staples (15-2), the fourth seed and nationally ranked in some polls, will face No. 1 Darien, one of the two teams it has lost to, in Tuesday’s semifinals.
Greenwich had lost to Staples in overtime during the regular season and nearly defeated Darien a week earlier, losing a late lead and succumbing in overtime. In a game of momentum swings and the dependence on controlling faceoffs, the Wreckers executed better down the stretch.
“It’s crazy. In the FCIAC you’re bound to play a great team in the first round no matter what,” said the Wreckers’ Mike Reale, who finished with 4 goals and 1 assist. “We prepared, beat Greenwich in overtime the first time and were ready again.”
Tanner Wood also finished with 4 goals and 1 assist for Staples, while Evan Zinn added three goals and 2 assists. Connor Chamberlin scored twice. Goaltender Peter Burger was outstanding, with 13 saves.
If the Wreckers had two unsung heroes, they were Brandon Adrian and Ben Schwaeber. Adrian, a sophomore defender, was assigned to Greenwich star Will Perry and shut him out on the scoreboard. Schwaeber did a good job winning faceoffs in the final quarter.
“Adrian had to cut off their best man,” McNulty said, referring to Perry. “He can beat us by himself so we had to control him.”
Michael Sands helped the Cardinals rally from a 5-1 deficit: he finished with three goals, the last two — in the last minute of the first half — part of a 5-0 run that made the score 5-4 at the break and gave them their first lead, 6-5, early in the third quarter.
Greenwich was ahead, 8-6, after the second of Jack Feda’s two goals, but Wood and Zinn set each other up 1:08 apart to tie the game as the Wreckers took a 9-8 lead into the final quarter.
“The fourth quarter we were playing from behind, we had to switch up the defense a little bit and they took advantage of it,” Greenwich coach Bobby Lutz said. “We just couldn’t get into a rhythm. They shut down Perry, which is a good strategy. We had options, we just weren’t executing them very well.”
Both McNulty and Reale agreed offensive adjustments helped turn the game around.
“We went into the locker room, we regrouped, we made a little change in the gameplan and we came back fired up,” Reale said. “We figured out they locked me off. We worked around it to get the other offensive players involved so we could take a lead and when they dropped back out of it we were able to get back into the offense.”
Added McNulty, “It was Michael getting the ball at X and controlling the offense, whether feeding or coming around and scoring.”