Staples girls lacrosse coach Pete Najarian said that his team circled its contest against FCIAC power New Canaan when the schedule was released over the winter.
The Wreckers, who were bounced from the FCIAC playoffs by the Rams last season, played like revenge was on their mind Tuesday in a game that went right down to the final horn.
Sophomore Samantha Stewart fired the game-winning goal with 4:12 left in the second half as New Canaan held off Staples 10-9 to improve to 5-2 on the season. The Wreckers dropped to 3-3 after their third straight defeat.
"It was a hard fought game," New Canaan coach Kristin Woods said. "Staples came out with a lot of intensity and really played well. Our girls came with fire and fight; we just needed to get that composure."
The turning point occurred moments earlier. Trailing 9-8 with five minutes left, New Canaan goalie Bailey Pilder made a save with her feet that denied a Staples shot that seemed destined to find the back of the cage.
Moments later, the ball was up the field and New Canaan was back on level terms. Catherine Granito took a pass from a free position and beat Staples goalie Emma Boland (10 saves). 45 seconds later, New Canaan had the lead for good.
Granito scored four goals for New Canaan while Isabel Taben fired a hat trick. Pilder made nine saves in the cage.
"(Granito and Taben) are definitely strong attackers for us," Woods said. "I think they'll keep getting stronger and keep stepping up. I look forward to see what they can do later in the year."
Staples had multiple chances to tie the game following Stewart's goal, but Pilder made a crucial save in the final 90 seconds and other shots went wide of the cage.
"I'm really proud of the girls," Najarian said. "It's a one goal loss to one of the best teams in the FCIAC; we played with them all day. Sometimes you don't hit a post and it's a goal, and sometimes the ball rolls the right way for you."
The teams traded goals in the second half and no one was able to create breathing space. Meredith Hood scored twice for Staples, including a goal with 9:48 left in the second half that gave Staples a 9-8 lead.
"It was a great test," Woods said. "It was good to be in a pressure situation at the end of the game, having to possess the ball. Emily DeTour did a spectacular job of moving from defense to midfield for us."
Trailing 5-3 late in the first half, Taben took over for the Rams. The attacker scored twice in the final 42 seconds of the half to draw New Canaan even, then opened the second half with a goal to make the score 6-5.
Staples fell 9-6 to Warde on Thursday and rebounded in its best performance of the season Tuesday. Najarian conceded that his team may have overlooked the Mustangs in preparation for New Canaan.
"We were very up for this game," Najarian said. "Our girls worked very hard in practice after the Warde game and our captains and our leaders really got the team up."
Next up for New Canaan is a showdown with arch rival Darien. The Rams were the last team from Connecticut to defeat the Blue Wave, a 9-6 win on June 4, 2012 in the Class M quarterfinals.