By Andy Hutchison
NEWTOWN >> Staples High School’s boys’ lacrosse team got three goals from Will Johnson, including the game-winner, to nip host Newtown 5-4 on a damp Thursday night. The Wreckers, despite being shut out in the opening half, overcame 2-0 and 3-1 deficits, and snapped a late four-all deadlock to win their third game in a row.
Staples improved to 10-4 overall and Newtown, which competes in the South-West Conference but is also a Class L school, dropped to 11-4. This was a good inter-conference battle between teams gearing up for the playoffs which get going in about a week.
Johnson took a pass from Jon Pacilio and netted what proved to be the winner with 2:25 left in the game. Newtown had a couple of late possessions for chances to tie the score. Staples’ Max Fuld knocked the ball away from a Newtown player with 10 seconds left and the Wreckers got control and ran out the clock.
Staples Coach Paul McNulty said he was “very pleased” with pulling out the victory.
“Newtown is a very good team and they played very well and inspired – and we had to match them,” he said.
Both squads possessed the ball well and used patience to try to set up good scoring chances, which were few and far between.
“They have a very good defense and I think we have a pretty good defense,” McNulty said.
Goaltending was solid, too, but yet also an area of concern for both teams. Staples starting goalie Cole Gendels left the game temporarily after being rattled by a shot. Sean Driscoll came on and didn’t need to make a save before Gendels regrouped and returned. Gendels finished with five saves.
Newtown had a tougher time in net as the Nighthawks went through their backup and an attack player before all was said and done. Starter Jon Rospenda made one save before exiting with an injury. His backup, Tommy Elliot came in and finished with 12 saves. Elliot left the game, for a short time, after being stunned by a hard shot to the helmet. Attack player Brad Kretz was called upon and made one stop.
Staples, after failing to find the net in the first two quarters, found new life early in the second half. In fact, it took the Wreckers only a dozen seconds following the intermission to get on the board. Isaac Paparo scored on a high shot to slice the deficit in half.
Newtown answered, on Ryan Sullivan’s second tally, with 8:48 left in the third for a 3-1 lead. Only 1:07 later, Johnson scored his first, on a man advantage, to again pull the Wreckers to within one. Just 16 seconds later, Johnson struck again, after taking a feed from Eric Zurmuehle, to even the score at 3-3.
With 1:04 left in the third, the Wreckers took their first lead on a goal by Connor Chamberlin.
Newtown’s Matt Meyers got the host Nighthawks even at 4-4 with 7:54 left, and the game remained tied until Johnson capped off his hat-trick performance.
The Wreckers previously beat Fairfield Ludlowe 9-4 and got past Wilton 9-8. It marked the first time the Wreckers have beaten Wilton, McNulty said. The teams have been playing since 1974, he added. McNulty, in his sixth year with Staples, coached in the Wilton program during 20 of those seasons, including 13 as head coach.
The Wreckers after scheduled season finale against Norwalk on May 20, embark on the FCIAC and state playoffs.