Staples High boys lacrosse coach Paul McNulty believes his team is far more battle-tested now that the Wreckers have experienced tight contests against FCIAC powers New Canaan and Darien.

The Wreckers displayed some of those abilities Saturday, fending off a challenge from a tough opponent after their early lead disappeared.

Midfielder Joey Zelkowitz netted a hat trick and Colin Bannon and Michael Reale each scored twice as Staples defeated St. Joseph 9-5 at home for its third win in four games.

"The players have shown good qualities of playing hard in tough situations," McNulty said. "They showed the qualities in the New Canaan game (8-7 double-overtime win) and the Darien game (5-3 loss). Our motto is to play hard and smart. Earlier in the year we were playing hard, but we could have played a lot smarter. ... We hope to have these two qualities the rest of the year."

Staples (6-3, 4-3 FCIAC) jumped out to a 5-0 first-quarter lead but the Cadets slowly battled back, eventually cutting the deficit to 6-5 with 30 seconds left in the third quarter. Jeff Marcantonio spearheaded the rally, scoring three times over the stretch.

"We go into games and sometimes come out a little flat," St. Joseph coach Joe Izzo said. "Sometimes it takes these guys six or seven minutes before they line up. When you play good teams you're going to fall behind; we dug a hole."

Bannon scored both of his goals in the fourth quarter, including one of the highlight-reel variety. The senior attacked the cage, evading three defenders before spinning and firing a shot past St. Joseph goalie Mike Braddick to make the score 9-5.

"I saw the slide and decided to spin" Bannon said. "It was a great pass from (goalie) Cole (Gendels) to get up the field; credit to the defense they did a great job today."

The Cadets had a chance to tie the game early in the fourth quarter, but missed their opportunity. A shot from the outside hit the post and a rebound fell right to a player in front of the cage, but Gendels made an outstanding save to preserve the Wreckers' lead.

"The boys played better from the second quarter on," Izzo said. "They could have folded up and gotten tight, but they didn't. They stayed focused and fought back into the game."

McNulty was well aware of the threat the Cadets presented, and stayed on his players to keep fighting on an emotional afternoon.

"Every game we play with St. Joe's the last five years, that was probably the widest margin of victory," McNulty said. "I kept telling (the players) St. Joe's are going to keep playing hard."

The game was preceded by an event to benefit Sticks for Soldiers, an organization that helps raise money through lacrosse for wounded veterans and their families. A ceremony was held in the honor of fallen Staples High graduate Roger Muchnick, which included a speech by his uncle. Muchnick, 23, was one of seven marines killed from an explosion during a training exercise in Nevada in March.

"It's a good day, but after the speech it was very emotional," McNulty said. "We are very lucky to do all the things we do and we are very grateful to these men that stand in the line for us."

Ryan Lacey is a freelance writer


ST. JOSEPH 1 1 3 0 -- 5

STAPLES 5 1 0 3 -- 9

Records: St. Joseph 4-5, 1-5 FCIAC, Staples 6-3, 4-3.

Scoring: SJ --Jeff Marcantonio (3g, 1a), Duke Bashar (1g), Rick Giorno (1g); S -- Joey Zelkowitz (3g, 1a) Patrick Lesch (1g), Colin Bannon (2g, 1a) Michael Reale (2g), Will Johnson (1g), Jack Greenwald (2a), Jon Pacilio (1a). Goalies: SJ -- Mike Braddick (8 saves); S -- Cole Gendels (7). Shots: SJ -- 29; S -- 23.