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In the early going of Saturday’s Northern Region girls championship, Edison players must have felt like they were shooting the basketball at a golf cup. The Eagles simply couldn’t buy a bucket, ending the first quarter with just five points, all of which had come at the foul line.

Finally, a flash of hope emerged 50 seconds into the second quarter when Jada Graves made a steal in the South Lakes backcourt and dribbled in for a wide-open layup. Only her layup missed, leaving Edison down 23-7.

The Eagles managed to climb back to a more manageable 31-23 halftime deficit, but Graves, their freshman sharpshooter who had put up 20 points against Centreville in the semifinal two days earlier, had just one point to her name at the break. Edison coach Dianne Lewis could have yelled at her freshman guard at that point, but instead she took a different approach.

“As a coaching staff we said, ‘Look, we’re not going to jump on her. That’s just going to compound it. Let’s just keep encouraging her,’” Lewis said. “You have to coach this group like that sometimes. We just told her, ‘Be patient. Your time’s going to come.’”

The level-headed strategy paid dividends, as Graves came out of the locker room with renewed vigor and exploded for 22 second-half points. She utilized her left-handed crossover to shake defenders at the top of the key and attack the basket time and again, taking advantage of more spacious lanes after South Lakes interior threats Abigail Rendle and Princess Aghayere were sent to the bench with four fouls apiece. Rendle — the Seahawks’ 6-foot-4 leading scorer — dominated the first quarter with eight points, five rebounds and five blocks, but Edison’s attacking style of offense kept her in foul trouble the rest of the way.

Graves kept the defense guessing by also relying on a red-hot stroke from beyond the arc. She buried three treys in the second half to complement the pinpoint shooting of Lindsey Krisak, her sophomore teammate who also nailed three shots from downtown. None were bigger than the one at the 3:35 mark in the fourth quarter that put the Eagles ahead 53-50, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Edison eventually ran away with a 60-52 victory that resulted in its third regional title since 2006.

“We came out slow, but our coach always stayed positive,” said Graves, who was named tournament MVP. “We had the attack mentality to come back and win,” Graves said. “After the regular season our coaches told us we’re not freshmen anymore. We’re a varsity team. The age doesn’t matter. We just play our game.”

With just three upperclassmen on its roster, Edison (24-4, 12-2 National) suffered only three regular season losses en route to a runner-up finish in the National District. Lewis could only shake her head in awe at the latest accomplishment of the youngest team she’s coached in 12 years at the helm.

“I knew they were talented,” Lewis said. “What I thought was the experience would be something we would need to build on year after year, that we would continue to get better, that we would develop and just bide our time until we could make a good run for regionals. They just surprised me. They’re competitors.”

Even with all the talent at hand, the Eagles still managed to fly under the radar while National District champion Mount Vernon stormed through a regular season in which it finished undefeated against local competition. The Majors relied on a roster packed with seniors to humble Edison’s youthful squad on three separate occasions this season, the most recent being a 80-63 triumph in the National District championship.

But Mount Vernon’s promising year came to an abrupt end in the region quarterfinals against South Lakes, which escaped the Majors’ home floor on a buzzer-beater by Seahawks junior guard Caitlin Jensen. Edison players, fans and coaches erupted into spontaneous cheers when they received that piece of news via a text message during their 30-point quarterfinal win against Madison.

Still, the Eagles recognize the benefit of going up against a team as good as Mount Vernon on a regular basis.

“I’m glad we have them in our district because they’re a really good team,” Graves said. “Playing them prepared us for times like this.”

Edison can now look forward to a Friday state quarterfinal matchup against Northwest Region runner-up Colonial Forge at 5 p.m. at Robinson Secondary. The Eagles last went to the state tournament as region champions in 2006 and 2007, both times finishing as state runners-up.

“We told them that the new season started when regionals started,” Lewis said. “Now we’ve got a chance for another season to start for us again.”

neilerson@fairfaxtimes.com