Strong defense, determination in transition and effective-enough offense spring-boarded the New Canaan High School boys lacrosse team past Daniel Hand in the Class M boys' lacrosse tournament quarterfinals on Saturday at Dunning Field.

The third-seeded Rams doubled up No. 11 Hand 10-5 to advance to Tuesday's semifinal round against No. 2 Darien.

The Rams got goals from nine different players; only Cody Newton had a multi-goal effort (two). Joe Costigan, Henry Eschricht, Oliver Norton, Joe Kahmann, Sam Stanton, Peter Kraus, Scott O'Brien and John Brainard all found the net once each in the victory.

New Canaan goaltender Thomas Carey stopped six shots, while his counterpart, Scott Lachapelle, made 16 saves as the Rams fired 49 shots by the game's end.

Leading 3-1 after one quarter, the Rams began to pull away and held Hand scoreless in the second for a 5-1 halftime lead. New Canaan head coach Alex Whitten was pleased with the play of his defense -- particularly that of Kevin Campbell, Ian Knechtle and Bobby Femia -- and strong goaltending by Carey.

"Our defense was awesome today," the coach said. "They played extremely well."

Hand threatened to close to within three goals late in the third quarter but the Rams' tough defense got the ball and used a hard-nosed counter attack, culminating with Stanton's goal, to extend the lead to 7-2 with 3:42 left in the third. The goal was made possible, in part, by Ronald Balzano, who took a hard ball-jarring hit near the midfield sideline but stayed focused, got to his feet and got possession back to help set up Stanton's tally. The Rams -- from that point forward -- pulled away on the scoreboard, building 8-2 and 10-3 cushions en route to the win.

"When you take a hit like that, if you just keep going it adds a little fire to the team," Balzano said. "It just completely reversed the momentum."

Now the Rams are hoping to carry over their momentum into the quarterfinals. Immediately after the game, it was still unknown whether the Rams would face No. 7 Wilton or Darien and the players and coach talked about the difficulties of either task.

"Either way it's going to be a tough game, and we've got to keep going. We don't want the season to end," Balzano said.

Balzano and Whitten pointed out that the Rams had beaten Wilton twice already and didn't expect the third time to be easy. "It's really tough to beat a good team three times," Whitten said. The Rams would soon find out that they wouldn't have to worry about that scenario as Darien pulled off a 10-9 win over Wilton on Saturday. Darien stands to be a tough challenger. The team overcame an early deficit to topple New Canaan 11-5 earlier this spring.

"It would be good to get a piece of Darien," Carey said.

The Rams seem to always crave another crack at their border rivals, who've showed some mortality in 2010.

"It definitely feels good to get the win. We definitely came back after the loss to Greenwich (in the FCIAC title game) and worked a lot harder and made a few changes to keep our winning streak," added Carey, noting that improvements on team defense and better all-around play on offense have improved.

The Rams are still seeking improvement as they stand to face stiffer challenges as they climb deeper into the tourney. Whitten said he would like his offense to take better quality shots in the upcoming rounds.

New Canaan walked off the field on Saturday enjoying the win but remaining focused on the continuing this state playoff run with a berth in the finals on the line on Tuesday.

"These guys are going to be fired up and ready to go," Whitten said.