When the CIAC released the 2014 girls lacrosse team schedules this winter, Staples coach Pete Najarian and his team circled its contest against conference power New Canaan.
The Wreckers, who were bounced from the FCIAC playoffs by the Rams last season, then played like revenge was on their mind Tuesday in a game that went right down to the final horn. But, it wasn't enough.
New Canaan sophomore Samantha Stewart fired the game-winning goal with 4:12 left in the second half as the Rams 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 game's turning point actually occurred moments prior to Stewart's goal. Trailing 9-8 with five minutes left, Rams goalie Bailey Pilder made a save with her feet that denied a excellent Staples shot, seemingly destined to find the back of the cage.
Moments later, the ball was sent upfield and New Canaan was back on level terms. Taking a pass from a free position, Catherine Granito beat Staples netminder Emma Boland (10 saves). Forty-five seconds after the game-tying score, Stewart put the Rams up for good.
Granito finished with four goals, 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, as 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 scores early in the second half, before no one was able to create space for a stretch offensively. Next, 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 struck gold twice in the final 42 seconds of the half to draw New Canaan even and then opened the second half with a goal to make the score 6-5.
Staples, which fell 9-6 to Warde on Thursday, put forth 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 archrival 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.