A 14-inning pitcher’s duel fueled Ben Lipson’s love of softball.

One of three finalists for Carroll College’s head softball coach opening, Lipson said he wouldn’t be on his current career path if not for an unexpected assignment he had as a sports writer. As a senior in high school while writing for the school paper, he stepped in to cover a softball game — a sport the avid baseball fan knew little about — when another writer fell ill. What he got was a thrilling 1-0 extra-inning victory by the home team that featured a combined 52 strikeouts by the starting pitchers.

“I knew from that moment I wanted to coach softball; I was hooked,” Lipson said in an interview Friday with the Independent Record.

From there he began coaching travel teams, and he’s been a coach at the collegiate level for the past decade. Most recently he was an assistant at Division I Quinnipiac University in 2011 and 2012, and hopes to bring that D-I competitivness to the small-college atmosphere Carroll has to offer. Lipson, who said recruiting is his favorite part of the job and also a strength of his, has coached at similar schools like Middlebury College, Lawrence University and Stephens College.

The winning tradition of Saints athletics programs piqued his interest in Carroll, a school he first discovered when football player Brandon Day was on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

“I never knew then I’d be sitting here today,” Lipson said, adding that this is the first time he’s set foot in Montana. “After reading that issue and learning of the program and successes they’ve had, it definitely upped my interest when I saw they were starting a softball program. They are tremendous from an academic standpoint and an athletic standpoint, and you couldn’t ask for anything more as a coach.”

Lipson said if hired he will immerse himself in the Helena community and Carroll culture, then take that newfound knowledge to potential recruits. He said the goal is to first go after the top 5 to 10 percent of student-athletes in Montana, then expand from there.

“The goal is to not just look at building numbers, but to look to build with kids that are Carroll kids,” he said. “It’s a matter of prepping myself to see what a Carroll student looks like, what type of kid will excel at this college.”

He estimates initially spending 4-6 hours recruiting, and the rest of the day will be spent out in the Helena community drumming up interest in the program.

“I’d love it if that complex across the street was just filled with Saints fans,” he said of Batch Fields. “There’s not a lot of spectator sports that take place in the spring, and fastpitch softball is at its peak and popularity right now.”

Lipson views his coaching philosophy as doing everything he can to “enhance the experience for the student-athlete.” He wants them to look back on their college experience and have only positive memories.

As for how long it will take to make the new program successful, Lipson said the goal is immediately.

“The bar is set,” the 33-year-old said, referring to Carroll’s history of success in other sports. “You don’t want your program to be the one sitting out there while everyone else is taking care of business. That’s just your set of circumstances.”

He said his philosophy is to ask players to get 1 percent better each day, and he’s aiming to do the same as a coach. He said the goal is to never stop improving, and to get athletes in who have the desire to keep getting better.

“Recruiting is the lifeblood of the program,” he said. “These kids are leaving a legacy for all future Carroll College softball players. That’s not to say we’re going to go out and win a national championship in the first year. But my goal is to, within the next four months, put this program in the best position possible to start out.”

Lipson said it will be important for his team to give back to the community and have a visible presence around Helena. He wants to gauge the interests of the players and build off of that, for example get elementary education majors out reading to kids in schools. He’s also a strong proponent of the Friends of Jaclyn program, where a team adopts a child with cancer or other terminal illness. The child gets to come into the dugout and essentially feels like part of the team.

Lipson is confident in his abilities and said Carroll is “not going to find a harder working person” for the job.

Community forums with the finalists wrapped up Friday, and Saints athletic director Bruce Parker said Carroll hopes to make a hire early next week.

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