A debate raged in the St. John’s clubhouse following the Cadets’ fourth Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship series title in as many years.

There is no one determining factor, Coach Mark Gibbs said, that gets his ballclub through this grueling tournament every year.

“If there was a secret sauce, they’d bottle it and sell it,” he said, sopping wet from a Ga­tor­ade bath. 

Tell that to senior Peter Costigan, who has won three of these championships now and managed to sky a 3-2, two-out pitch in the sixth inning to right field. DeMatha’s Marcus Brown camped under it, then drifted and drifted and lunged, and by the time it finally hit the ground, St. John’s had broken a scoreless tie. The Cadets added three more runs that inning, then another two in the seventh.

The 6-1 victory felt dominant. It was not. But it was the product of a team that was opportunistic when it counted. The Cadets (24-7) came back from a four-run deficit in Game 1 of the best-of-three series Saturday en route to a 9-5 win.

DeMatha, until the dropped ball in the sixth, had Game 2’s best scoring chances. The Stags (21-9) stranded a runner at third in the fifth inning and had two men on with two outs in the fourth. St. John’s senior starter Jake Pecilunas finagled his way out of both jams. 

“This is probably the best he’s been with his breaking stuff and his fastball,” Gibbs said.

DeMatha freshman Alex Greene scattered four hits over 5⅔ innings. He was on track to strand a runner on third base as Costigan’s flyball dangled in the air. Then the wind kicked up at Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Southeast Washington. Costigan ended the play on second base, a product of running full speed on a play that appeared to be an out. That’s the secret sauce, Costigan said.

“The secret sauce is attention to detail and critiquing everything,” he said. “We don’t let anything go.”

“When we get in the playoffs,” reliever and shortstop Jake Roberts said, “you can trust the process. Everything just flows.”

Junior first baseman Dylan Hunter singled him home two pitches later. DeMatha Coach Sean O’Connor pulled Greene. St. John’s sophomore Ian Remalia punched reliever Moises Aristy’s first pitch back up the middle.

Three pitches later, Yash Rane sliced a line drive into left field that plated two runs. 

That was enough run support for Roberts, a sidearm-throwing closer. DeMatha scored one run in the sixth off an error and fielder’s choice but couldn’t square up against Roberts’s fastball and hard-breaking slider.

He threw the latter on the game’s final pitch to strike out DeMatha’s Thomas Keehn. The Cadets spilled out of the dugout to tackle Roberts, throwing their hats in the air on the way.

“This feels better than the last three,” Roberts said. “It never gets old.”