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LODI — Ben Leistico was nervous and excited Friday night.

He was about to serve as a head varsity coach for the first time in any sport because Lodi boys basketball coach Mitch Hauser, after being given intravenous fluids at the hospital, was home with a severe case of the flu.

“I didn’t want Mitch to not have another game with these seniors,” Leistico said. “We’ve been together for a while. I wanted it more for Mitch and to give Mitch a chance to, hopefully, come back (Saturday). That was our chant before the game, ‘We were playing this one for Hauser.’ Hopefully, he gets better.”

Senior forward Jackson Kolinski scored 21 points, including 15 in the first half, and host Lodi pulled together for a 66-59 win over Madison Edgewood in a WIAA Division 3 regional semifinal.

“We had really good high-low action going on and we really shared the ball well,” said the 6-foot-5 Kolinski, a Loras College commit. “We just had to step up as a whole. Without coach (Hauser) there, we had to step up, share the ball and get everyone involved.”

Third-seeded Lodi (14-9) got everyone involved on offense, warded off Edgewood’s second-half charge and advanced to a regional final today at second-seeded Edgerton.

Senior guard Canyon Bacon and sophomore Jack Persike, who made 10 free throws in the second half, each had 15 points and senior guard Casey Breunig added 13 points for the Capitol North Conference champion Blue Devils.

Senior forward Mandela Deang scored a game-high 26 points and junior forward Michael Meriggioli had 15 points off the bench for the sixth-seeded Crusaders (9-15), whose coach, Chris Zwettler, has been battling pneumonia.

“For some reason, we just were a little tentative in the first half,” Zwettler said. “That’s why we decided to put on the press in the second half to get some energy going. It seemed to work for a while. They are a good team. … They played solid all night considering they were missing their coach. They had some pretty good adversity there.”

After a 9-2 run by the Crusaders, the Blue Devils scored 11 unanswered points and grabbed a 30-25 first-half lead. That flurry was part of a 16-2 run, which put Lodi ahead 35-27 with 2 minutes, 32 seconds left in the first half.

The Blue Devils boosted their lead to 42-31 early in the second half before the Crusaders closed within 43-41 on a Meriggioli jumper with 10:09 to go. But Bacon scored on a drive, Kolinski converted a tip-in and Persike sank two free throws giving Lodi a 49-41 lead with 7:33 left.

“Basketball is a game of runs,” said Kolinski, who injured his left ankle on the tip-in but later returned. “We knew, ‘Don’t flinch, keep going playing our game and stay together.’ ”

The 6-5 Deang sank a 3-pointer, rallying the Crusaders within 63-59 with 34.1 seconds left. But Breunig converted the second of two free throws with 26.4 seconds left and Persike sank two free throws with 11 seconds to go.

Leistico — a 1998 Waterloo graduate who played baseball and basketball for his father, Steve, at Waterloo and has been coaching since his college days at UW-Platteville — said Hauser has been a great mentor.

“Our preparation this year made it easy (Friday night),” Ben Leistico said. “Our guys knew what needed to be done. So, we were ready. I had butterflies in the old stomach, but that’s good. I talked to the guys about adversity and handling adversity — helping out and stepping up.”

Madison Edgewood 29 30 — 59

Lodi 37 29 — 66

MADISON EDGEWOOD — Deang 8 6-7 26, Meriggioli 7 0-0 15, Cruz 1 0-0 3, Duffek 2 0-0 6, Thelen 1 0-0 2, Browne 2 2-4 7. Totals 21 8-11 59.

LODI — Bacon 6 3-5 15, Breunig 4 2-6 13, Kolinski 8 2-2 21, Persike 2 10-12 15, Steinhoff 1 0-0 2. Totals 21 17-25 66.

3-point goals — ME 9 (Deang 4, Meriggioli 1, Cruz 1, Duffek 2, Browne 1), L 7 (Breunig 3, Kolinski 3, Persike 1). Total fouls — L 10, ME 15. Fouled out — Browne.


Jon Masson covers high school sports for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has covered a variety of sports — including the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin men's and women's basketball and volleyball — since he first came to the State Journal in 1999.