It’s been a while since Mark Nonis has derived this much enjoyment from watching his team play baseball.
Halfway through the 2015 campaign, the Kelowna Falcons have compiled a 19-8 record and are perched high atop the West Coast League’s East Division.
Kelowna has won seven consecutive series and are an eye-popping 16-5 during that stretch.
And it’s not just the wins that have the club’s GM smiling, but the way the Falcons have grown into a cohesive unit—both on and off the diamond.
“Obviously these guys have the talent, we’ve had talented teams before, but this team just clicked and came together like few teams I’ve seen before,” said Nonis. “This is one of the closest knit groups we’ve had, they play for each other and when things aren’t going well, they pick each other up.
“They have fun and they’re a great group to be around, too. It’s been nice to see.”
It’s a vastly different scenario from a year ago when the Falcons were a sluggish 8-19 at the midway point of the season and eventually finished 14-39.
With players coming together from all corners of North America—mostly unfamiliar with each other—for 2 1/2 months in the summer, it’s difficult to predict precisely what the residual effects will be.
Nonis said Falcons’ field manager Billy Clontz has also grown since last season’s woes and that’s been reflected in the product on the diamond.
“Bill’s done real well,” said Nonis. “He’s really enjoying these guys and is having fun coaching them. You never know what you’re going to get, so Bill and I went into this season without expectations.
“It’s been going great but we have to remember we’re only 50 per cent done. We’ve got a ways to go, but we like how it’s been going so far.”
One of the many reasons for the Falcons’ success is the play of infielder Hunter Villaneuva. The sophomore from Fresno Pacific, who leads the teams in hitting with a .396 average, is enjoying his teammates, the brand of baseball the team is playing and his first summer in Canada.
“We just clicked automatically, we’ve formed some great friendships and the guys just believe in each other,” said Villaneuva, a native of Bakersfield, Calif. “Whether we’re down by a couple of runs or not having a great night, the guys pick each other up and find ways to win.
“As for (Kelowna), the town is incredible, the people are great…it’s been one of the best baseball experiences I’ve ever had.”
The Falcons return to action Friday at Elks Stadium when they open a three-game series against the Walla Walla Sweets. First pitch is 6:35 p.m.
Falcons sweep Gems…
It was over in the 1st, but the Kelowna Falcons kept swinging hot bats on Wednesday night against the Klamath Falls Gems in a 9-1 victory, to take the series sweep.
Justin Flores hit a 2-run homerun in the 1st, and Brandon Grimsley added a 3-run shot in the 2nd to jump on the Gems starter Riley Moore with a 5-0 lead.
Kelowna extended that lead to 9-0 in the 4th and 5th, as Lane Lacrone doubled and stole 3rd, later scoring on a double play.
In the 5th, Brandon Oliver had the big hit, doubling down the line to add a pair of runs before Joey Crunkilton scored him with an RBI groundout.
Joel Lamont was strong through 6 innings on the mound for the Falcons, striking out 5 while scattering 4 hits.
Flores would finish the game 3-4, while Lacrone and Oliver each had a pair of hits.
The Gems lone run came on an Austin Obanion home-run in the 7th.
Aidan Kearney and Max Carter threw scoreless innings to finish things off.
Kelowna continues to lead the WCL East Division, now by 3.5 games.