LODI — Within the bounds of good taste, Donnie Manke is the type of athlete who will do just about anything to gain an edge over his opponent.
"He's kind of an odd duck that way," Lodi boys basketball coach Mitch Hauser said of his senior forward.
So it should come as no surprise that Manke has been eating a pregame meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken before each of the Blue Devils' playoff games during their run to a second straight WIAA Division 3 state tournament berth.
"He ate KFC and he played great, and then he did it again and played great," starting point guard Kris Seffrood said of Manke's first encounter with the popular fast-food chain, which came before a basketball tournament in the summer prior to his junior year. "Every time he's eaten it, he's played great. So it's just one of those things you kind of take and run with."
Given how Lodi's last trip to the Kohl Center unfolded, it's understandable why Manke and Co. will go to great lengths in search of a spark as they prepare to face East Troy (23-3) in a state semifinal game at 10:45 on Friday morning.
In last season's semifinals, the Blue Devils (23-3) — making the program's first state appearance — were steamrolled by eventual champion Brillion 59-30.
None of Lodi's starters scored more than four points in the loss, and most of the Blue Devils' players now admit staying in Madison the night before the game was a mistake.
"We didn't prepare like we usually do, and we got embarrassed," Manke said. "There's no way around that: We got embarrassed. You don't go to state and lose by 30."
While Hauser admits Lodi's best game may not even have been good enough to win that day, Seffrood and others said the team's biggest problem was battling a sense of satisfaction following a sectional final victory over top-ranked East Troy and its four NCAA Division 1 recruits — three of which are back for Friday's semifinal.
"That can either devastate you or kind of fuel your fire, and clearly they've come together and been on a bit of a mission here," Hauser said. "They want another chance. They want another opportunity to right themselves."
Still, the Blue Devils' road back to the Kohl Center hasn't always been the smoothest.
Two losses in an eight-day span, the first of which came at home against Wisconsin Dells on Jan. 28, had some questioning whether Lodi was capable of making another state tournament run.
"You have the parents talking, the sports writers talking — even the students were like, 'What's wrong with you guys?' " said senior Brady Moses, one of four Lodi players averaging in doubles figures — led by junior wing Jordan Shea (15.6 ppg). "We're like, 'Nothing's wrong. We'll be fine once playoffs come around.' But I was never really worried."
That confidence never came into question in the playoffs as Lodi won its two regional games by a combined total of 69 points before picking up convincing wins over Cam Ward-led Marshall and top-seeded Wisconsin Dells in sectional play.
As for Friday, the game's early start time has forced Manke to make some adjustments to his pregame meal plan.
His mom, Sandy, will pick up his calorie-loaded feast — one leg, two chicken strips, potato wedges, mashed potatoes with gravy and a "Chicken Little" sandwich — on Thursday night so Donnie can reheat it all before Lodi makes its trek south to Madison the next morning.
"It's actually pretty disgusting," he said with a laugh.