The Staples boys lacrosse team's quest for a second straight Class L final appearance was almost derailed at the final hurdle on Wednesday as No. 5 Amity Regional gave the Wreckers all they could handle at Brien McMahon High School.
After yielding four goals in the third quarter, the Staples backline, which has been the backbone of the team's entire season, posted a shutout over the final 14 minutes while the offense finally found success at the other end.
Patrick Lesch fired a hat trick and the No. 9 Wreckers scored the game's final five goals in an 8-6 win over Amity at Casagrande Field. On Saturday, Staples will meet Greenwich, which defeated Ridgefield 7-5 in the other semifinal for a chance at the school's first state title.
"That was a great team win," Lesch said. "It was a little scary in the middle of the game when (Amity) made their run, but the defense played amazing, (goalie) Cole Gendels made some huge saves and our offense did what we do best."
Lesch scored what proved to be the game winner with 4:28 left in the fourth quarter. On a man-up opportunity, the Wreckers (15-5) moved the ball around to an open Lesch, who fired a shot from in front of the cage that went past Amity goalie Evan Campbell to break a 6-6 tie.
"We have a few (man-up) plays," Lesch said. "We ran through a few plays; we were just looking for that one seam where someone would get an open shot. We found it, so it worked out well."
Following Lesch's goal, Amity (15-5) had one quality chance down the stretch to tie the game. Joseph Choiniere found himself in front of the cage, but Gendels made a save on a shot high that preserved the lead. Choiniere stole the ball from Gendels after the save and scored, but the goal was ruled out for goalie interference.
Staples regained possession following the infraction and ran out the rest of the clock. Will Johnson sealed the win with a goal with 1:14 left as the Amity players attempted to force a turnover.
"Amity is a very good team," Wreckers coach Paul McNulty said. "They have disciplined players that hustle on ground balls. We knew it was going to be a tough game and we were going to have to be at our best to win."
Both teams defenses canceled each other out in the first half as Staples took a 3-2 lead into the break.
The Spartans showed signs of life during the second quarter, outshooting the Wreckers 10-5 and scoring the quarter's lone goal. Amity's offense came alive in the third as Brad Uscilla and Choiniere each scored twice to put the Spartans up 6-3 with 2:11 left in the third.
"We were still trying with the same will and determination, but so was Amity," McNulty said. "They made some better plays. "They kept getting the ball back and we didn't possess the ball at all on offense. Good things were happening for Amity and bad things were happening for us."
Jon Pacilio gave Staples a lifeline with 1:10 left in the third on an isolation move before the Wreckers took over in the fourth quarter. The comeback was aided by Wreckers faceoff man Eric Zurmuehle, who won 13 of 16 draws.
"I've been working hard all year; my whole career," Zurmuehle said. "I'm a senior now so I wanted to leave it all out there. I knew what I had to do; I had to play my role and that's what I did."
Staples 8, Amity 6
STAPLES 3 0 1 4 -- 8
AMITY 1 1 4 0 -- 6
Records: Staples 15-5; Amity 15-5. Scoring: S -- Michael Reale 1g; Patrick Lesch 3g Will Johnson 1g; Teddy Coogan 1g; Connor Chamberlin 2a; Jon Pacilio 1g, 1a; Peter Blevins 1g. A -- Joseph Choiniere 2g, 1a; Tyler Burns 1g, 1a; Jacob Milner 1g; Brad Uscilla 2g. Goalies: S -- Cole Gendels (8 saves); A -- Evan Campbell (7).