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Fraser coming back home again
Former local player in Georgia Tech regional
Elon University freshman Niko Fraser, who lived in Hall County for a number of years, slides into a base. The Phoenix are playing in the Atlanta regional of the NCAA tournament at Georgia Tech this weekend. - photo by For The Times

Elon University outfielder Niko Fraser made a humorous analogy in reference to waiting to learn his team’s postseason fate that made the lead earlier this week in their local newspaper in Burlington, N.C. He said those anxious moments brought back memories of trying to land a Valentine’s date in sixth grade.

“I had butterflies like I haven’t had since I tried to pick up a girl in seventh grade for Valentine’s Day,” Fraser said to the reporter.

Little did the reporter know, Fraser, a freshman for the Phoenix (38-22), was digging back into his memory bank to when he was attending West Hall Middle, and the butterflies associated with asking out his short-term steady, Sammy Morris. And just like Fraser was excited to land that monumental middle school date, he was equally relieved to find out Elon would be playing in the NCAA baseball tournament.

“We were a bubble team coming into the selection process,” Fraser said.

However, the story grew even more special for Fraser when they drew a date to the Atlanta regional at Georgia Tech for the second consecutive season.

He knew right then and there that he’d be playing right down the road from his parents Lewis and Melissa Fraser, both teachers in the Gainesville city schools system, and friends from right here in Hall County, some he hasn’t seen since he left prior to the eighth grade to attend The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla., where he graduated in 2009.

“This really is like a homecoming playing at Georgia Tech,”said Fraser, whose team lost 11-2 to Alabama on Friday. “I like to think that I have dual lives in two places (Hall County and Jacksonville).

“I’ll be able to see some friends that I haven’t seen in a while.”

“It’s surreal to have Niko be able to come play so close to home,” his father said. “There’s going to be a lot of people able to come see him play.”

Not only was Fraser flooded with memories of close friends upon arrival in Atlanta on Wednesday, not the least of which was taking part in numerous baseball camps at Georgia Tech growing up, but also teams he played on at West Hall, Bogan Park, East Cobb and another in Braselton.

Still, when it was time for Fraser to chose his path for high school, he chose to go in a different direction. Fraser first heard about The Bolles School from his grandfather, Lewis Fraser, who graduated from Bolles. Niko’s older brother, also named Lewis, was first to apply to Bolles, which led Niko to also want to attend the boarding school.

Fraser, originally from Miami, still remembers sitting in class at West Hall Middle when his acceptance letter to Bolles arrived in the mail.

He knew his new school would allow him the opportunity to flourish in one of the nation’s top-ranked high school athletic programs, which he did by leading the team to the Florida Class AAA state title in 2009. He even lived one year in the same room previously occupied by Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, also a Bolles graduate.

“I hadn’t given much thought to going to school at Bolles at first,” Fraser said. “But then my brother Lewis applied, and I always kind of followed him.

“Going to school there was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

In high school, Fraser quickly made a name for himself in baseball, a school that had previously been a national powerhouse in football.

As a junior, he hit .487 and was ranked as one of the Top 75 prospects in baseball. Then as a senior, he batted .414, was a perfect 9-for-9 hitting in the state finals doubleheader, and was named First-Team All State for the state of Florida. He helped the school reach two state semifinals.

With that kind of high school career, he had college offers ranging from the University of Miami to Air Force.

He settled on Elon with its baseball reputation, and the fact they had a number of players drafted out of the Class of 2009.

That’s not to say that being a freshman starting with a Division I program came without a learning curve.

He quickly learned that hitting .400 every year, like in high school, was not going to be possible. Fraser spent his freshman season starting at either left field or center field, despite missing two weeks with a pulled hamstring in the middle of the season.

“My freshman year has been a roller coaster,” said Fraser, who is hitting .295 with 10 stolen bases this season. “I don’t think I realized the rigor of playing Division-I baseball right away, but I’ve loved the roller coaster.”

Still, individual stats and figures didn’t weigh into the equation as the Elon team waited to see if its season would continue after the Southern Conference tournament. They knew it was not a given to get into the postseason since three schools have never qualified in the same season: Citadel (42-20) was an automatic as the conference champions, and the College of Charleston also had a good chance of getting in with its 42 wins.

After being rumored to be selected for either the Coastal Carolina, Auburn or South Carolina regional bracket, they watched those get filled with four teams each, and Fraser said the team’s hopes started to fade.

That was, until the Georgia Tech regional bracket was announced: Elon was headed to Atlanta, along with Alabama and Mercer. Since arriving, Elon’s baseball team took in an afternoon Braves game Wednesday, some site seeing, and practices at Georgia Tech.

“It’s kind of weird for me, because this is like a vacation for most of the guys on the team, but for me it’s like I’m coming home,” Fraser said.

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