John A. Carlos II (copy)

Clemson coach Monte Lee during the South Carolina game against Clemson at Founders Park, in Columbia on March 3, 2019. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

Clemson baseball coach Monte Lee wrestled with the question before finally pinning down his answer.

Was a season in which the Tigers went 35-26 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament a success?

"In my mind, the answer is no," Lee said Tuesday as he met with the media to dissect the 2019 season and look forward to next year. "That would be my answer. I'm not satisfied."

Any season that ends short of the College World Series is a disappointment on some level for Clemson. The Tigers have made 12 trips to Omaha, but the last time was in 2010 and they have not been to a Super Regional since then.

An eight-game skid, a 10-18 finish after a 25-8 start and a loss to Jacksonville State in an NCAA regional added to Lee's angst.

"If you don't go to the College World Series, there are things you need to improve upon," said Lee, who is 168-83 in four season at Clemson.

Lee laid out a three-part plan for making the Tigers better next season.

'Need more fire'

One step involves raising the emotional temperature in the Tigers' dugout.

"We've got to find a way to find more emotional, outspoken leadership within our team," he said. "We were more of a business-like approach. I would like to see in the fall who can step up on the position-player side and be that emotional, energetic leader on the field. We need that, we need more fire outwardly ... We are going to look for that."

A second goal, Lee said, is to stretch out Tiger pitchers so that they are better able to work into the late innings of games. That will mean big changes in fall practice, he said.

"We need to find three guys on the weekend who can get us into the sixth or seventh inning of a ball game," he said. "Nothing excites me more than to see a guy getting into the seventh inning, and that didn't happen enough this year.

"Can you get through a lineup a third time? That's the biggest challenge we run into with starters."

Toward that end, Lee said every pitcher on the roster would start games during fall practice.

"We're going to stretch them out and see who can start," he said. "Who can pitch with runners on base? Who can give up a run or two and go back out there the next inning and put up a zero? We're going to find who can do it.

"Everybody will be stretched out, and we will find out who can start. If guys are starting next season, that means they earned it. We'll repeat and repeat and repeat until we feel real good about these four or five guys because of what they've done all fall."

Lee said the Tigers' pitching depth should be a strength heading into the fall. But sophomore Spencer Strider and freshman Carter Raffield, who both missed the season with arm injuries, may not be ready to face batters until next January, Lee said.

Too many strikeouts

On offense, the Tigers batted .266 and averaged 6.49 runs per game, with 82 homers and 91 stolen bases. They'll have to replace top hitters such as Logan Davidson, Grayson Byrd and Kyle Wilkie.

"Our goal is to score seven runs a game," Lee said. "If we do that, we'll win a lot of games. That's what we need to get to. How do we do that?

"Well, we stole a lot of bases and still hit some home runs, and we're still not scoring enough runs. Why? We struck out too much (550 times). We've got to get better at putting the ball in play with two strikes, competing with two strikes and forcing the defense to make a play."

Lee pointed out that his team fielded at an acceptable .972 clip, but opposing teams were even better at .973.

"We didn't put enough pressure on them to have to make plays," he said. "We hit it over the fence or in the gaps, or we popped up or struck out. We've got to put more pressure on the defense in a number of different ways."

Lee, who won at least 40 games in each of his first three seasons, said he's discussed the state of the program with athletic director Dan Radakovich.

"We've had conversations, not necessarily about expectations," Lee said. "We all know the expectations, that's kind of a given ... Both of us are certainly on the same page as far as what we need to improve on and get our team back to Omaha, which is the ultimate goal."

Academic Common Market

Lee also addressed Clemson University's recent withdrawal from the Academic Common Market, a program that offered in-state tuition to out-of-state students who want to major in subjects not available in their home states.

It was sometimes used by the baseball program to help recruit out-of-state players at in-state tuition rates, a difference about $22,000 in tuition per player. That can make a big difference in a sport that must spread 11.7 scholarships across as many as 35 players.

Clemson no longer participates in the Academic Common Market for undergraduate students, but graduate students still are eligible. The University of South Carolina is in the common market for both undergrads and graduates, while Texas and Florida schools participate only at the graduate level. In 2011, North Carolina withdrew its schools from the ACM for both graduate and undergraduate degrees.

"The simple answer is we no longer have it," Lee said. "We're not going to make excuses. We just have to move forward and sell Clemson for what it is. The bottom line is we've got to go out and get the best players from across the country that want to come to Clemson, and that's what we are going to do.

"If we need to change the way we recruit or the areas we need to recruit to fill those needs, then we will ... We're going to be fine, we're going to be able to recruit at a high level across the nation because the Clemson brand is so big."

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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