"A program game," that's how Staples High boys lacrosse coach Paul McNulty described the Wreckers' win against Greenwich Saturday in the quarterfinal round of the L state tournament.

After watching the Wreckers defeat New Canaan for the first time ever earlier this spring, McNulty felt his squad had something special going. Saturday, his players proved him right.

Senior Joey Zelkowitz and junior Jon Pacillo scored two goals apiece and third-seeded Staples used a sensational defensive effort to edge visiting Greenwich, 6-5, in a rematch of the FCIAC quarterfinals. The Wreckers, who had already lost to the Cardinals twice this season, advanced to Wednesday's semifinals against second-seeded Simsbury in Cheshire at 7:15 p.m.

"The New Canaan game earlier in the year when we beat them for the first time, that was a program game and this set up the same way," McNulty said, referring to an 8-7 double-overtime defeat of the Rams on April 20. "Greenwich had beaten us twice, but it's hard to beat a team three times in one season. We're trying to build up our program, so this was a program win. It's a huge win."

Sixth-seeded Greenwich, which posted an 11-8 victory over Staples in the FCIAC quarterfinals en route to advancing to the conference finals, finished its season at 15-6. The Cardinals received a pair of goals from junior midfielder Ryan Flippin.

"Staples did a good job defensively and we didn't capitalize on a lot of our opportunities to score goals," Greenwich coach Scott Bulkley said. "Our defense was phenomenal. When you hold a team to six goals you usually win."

Pacillo gave the Wreckers a 6-3 advantage with 3:01 remaining, catching Will Johnson's pass from behind and snapping a short shot inside the right post. But the Cardinals didn't go down quietly.

Attack Will Gibian scored off a feed from Flippin with 2:20 remaining. After Graham Savio won the ensuing faceoff, midfielder Alex Moeser tallied on a strong run to the goal, making it 6-5 with 1:56 remaining. Savio gave Greenwich the ball again on the next faceoff, but led by Lance Lonergan, Alec Yass, Quinn Mendelson and Isaac Paparo, Staples stood strong defensively. A Cardinals turnover with a minute remaining gave Staples possession, allowing the Wreckers to run out the clock.

Staples controlled the tempo the majority of the game, allowing few opportunities for the Cardinals to get out in transition.

"We wanted to bring it to our end, slow it down so our defense could rest and move the ball around," McNulty said. "We know they have a lot of skilled players, so we tried to limit their opportunities."

Johnson scored the game's first goal 3:20 into the first quarter and sophomore midfielder Tucker Bobrow put the Wreckers ahead 2-0 tallying off a feed from Pacillo two minutes later. Back-to-back goals from Flippin evened the score at 2-2 heading into the second quarter.

Pacillo and Zelkowitz scored in the second quarter for Staples, which spent a lot of time on Greenwich's end running its settled offense. The Wreckers took a 4-3 lead into halftime after Greenwich's James Paradise set Luke Finneran up for a goal the final minute of the second quarter. The second half was a defensive battle, as Staples' Cole Gendels (12 saves) and Greenwich's William Waesche (10 saves) stood their ground in net.

"We had a pretty solid effort on defense," Waesche said. "I feel our team really came together this season. A lot of guys were injured and banged up, but we had a lot of players step up and fill roles."

Said Moeser, who played despite an injured right thumb: "Offensively, we just didn't click. We knew they had two kids who were good scorers, so we knew we had to score some goals today."

McNulty also guided Staples to the state semifinals in 2010 and 2011.

"I couldn't be prouder of our team," McNulty said. "This group has matured so much throughout the season."

david.fierro@scni.com; 203-625-4423\

Staples 6, Greenwich 5

GREENWICH 2 1 0 2 -- 5

STAPLES 2 2 0 2 -- 6

Records: Staples 15-4; Greenwich 15-6

Scoring: G -- Will Gibian (1 g); Luke Finneran (1g, 1a); Alex Moeser (1g); Ryan Flippin (2g, 1a); James Paradise (1a). S -- Will Johnson (2g); Jon Pacillo (2g, 1a); Will Johnson (1g, 2a); Tucker Bobrow (1 g); Colin Bannon (1a). Goalies: G -- William Waesche (10 saves); S -- Cole Gendels (12 saves).