Whoever created the cliche that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, must have had the Evanston boys bowling team in mind.

The Wildkits have had their share of fast starts at various alleys during this historic season. But nobody closes out a tournament quite like Evanston.

Coach Harold Bailey’s squad leapfrogged two other challengers in game six and punched a ticket for the Illinois High School Association state finals for the first time in school history at the Glenbard East Sectional tournament Saturday.

The Wildkits put together a score of 1092 over the last 10 frames of a long day, and even endured a late equipment malfunction to clinch an automatic team qualifying berth with their fourth-place finish.

ETHS finished at 6244, off the pace the Kits strung together at the regional but easily enough to advance as one of the six automatic qualifiers out of each sectional.

Saint Patrick set the team qualifying pace with a pinfall of 6585, ahead of Glenbard East (6328), Lyons (6297), ETHS, Lane Tech (6172) and Reavis (6113) in the 12-team field.

The state finals are set for Friday and Saturday in downstate O’Fallon. Evanston is the only team from the Central Suburban League to advance to the finals.

Senior John Leibforth’s sizzling score of 260 in the final game helped him earn seventh place overall in the individual standings with a team-best 1363, backed up by teammates Isaac Clay-Barbour (1336), Andrew Bartol (1241), Justin Davis (1129) and Clayton Krasinski (1175).

“We really had to grind the whole day, but they were able to close it out at the end. It’s a great day for the Wildkits!” exclaimed Bailey. “We didn’t have a strong beginning, and after the fifth game [languishing in fifth place in the team standings] we had to get back on track. We were teetering on maybe getting overtaken at that point, but they came through and closed everybody out.

“We leap-frogged two positions there at the end and that really amazed me. But they’ve been doing it all year, and this is what we do. We’ve got five solid bowlers who have really come together and have worked hard on their craft. They’re good representatives of the program that we’ve built here.”

Evanston’s momentum was stalled slightly when a pinsetter got stuck and couldn’t distribute the pins properly on one lane. The Wildkits had to wait 15 minutes before they could resume bowling in the 10th frame, but didn’t let the interruption faze them.

“When the lights came back on, they all shined brightly,” Bailey praised. “It’s just a very satisfying feeling right now. I knew their capabilities and we’ve had to keep raising the bar all year.”

Evanston opened with a team score of 1089 and followed with efforts of 1100 and 1041, then dipped slightly in games four and five with scores of 933 and 989.

But this is a team that always saves its best for last and Bailey doesn’t expect that to change at the IHSA finals.

“I just want to make the cut [from 24 teams to 12] and get to Saturday,” said the Kits coach. “Then we’ll have a good chance to make the top seven or eight, I think, and maybe we’ll get some breaks once we get to Saturday.”