Last season almost went just as planned for the Greenwich softball team.
The Cardinals reached their goal of getting into the state tournament and winning a playoff game, but four defeats in their final five regular season games cost the group their first FCIAC postseason spot in eight seasons.
It's been a case of steady progress for the Cardinals, who have improved from 6-14 in 2010, to 9-11 in 2011 and 12-10 a year ago, but with the way the season ended, there is a sense of unfinished business heading into 2013.
"We are definitely motivated to make FCIAC's, just because we were so close last year," co-captain Ebba Mark said. "It's also been a very long time since it's been done. These girls have worked so hard we feel we deserve a spot and should go far this season."
Greenwich opens its season on Wednesday at Wilton.
AT THE HELM: Mary Beth Fratello begins her fifth year as head coach.
WHO'S GONE: Erica Ambrogio was first team All-FCIAC at shortstop the last two seasons and both her bat and outstanding defense will be missed. Right fielder Emily Raviele and Center fielder Lindsey Bemis are the only other starters that graduated.
WHO'S BACK: Senior Alison Kach begins her second year as the starting pitcher for the Cardinals and should be one of the team's most consistent hitters as well. Erin Ferguson (catcher), Rebecca DeCarlo (shortstop) will provide the bulk of the offense along with Mark (first base)
"When (Kach) is on she can be one of the top pitchers in the league," Fratello said. "As long as her control is on she should be fine."
WATCH OUT FOR: The quest to qualify for the FCIAC playoffs. The Cardinals went 1-3 in one-run games a year ago and an improved effort in that area will likely be the difference into cracking the top eight.
"We want to make the FCIAC tournament," Fratello said. "We came up like one game short, one game here or there we could have won and made the tournament."
STRENGTHS: After being an inexperienced group in 2012, Greenwich appears to have experience on its side heading into this year.
"A lot of us played varsity last year so we are used to the varsity level and I think we all know what we need to do to be successful this year," Kach said.
WEAKNESS: The Cardinals have struggled with producing offense over the past few seasons, especially against the top teams in the league. Because Kach should keep Greenwich in most games, how the group fares in close and late situations will likely determine if a playoff spot is earned.
"Mental mistakes, especially in those closer games," Fratello said. "We're an older team now, we can't have those letdowns; we have to play like an experienced, veteran team."
SHOWDOWNS: While Darien (April 24), St. Joesph (April 17) and Westhill (May 3) figure to be the class of the FCIAC again, how Greenwich fares against fellow playoff hopefuls Stamford (April 10), Ridgefield (April 15) and Danbury (May 17)
DID YOU KNOW?: The furthest the Cardinals have gone in the class LL tournament was the semifinals in 2003.