It's often said that these games are learning experiences for losing teams. The lesson in this one was clear to the Red Devils: They deserved to be in this game, and with two top starters and a strong bench returning next season, they have every reason to expect to be back.
"It's been a great ride," said Red Devils coach Anthony Corrado, whose team won just the second state girls' basketball title in school history last week. "The girls should be proud of themselves.
"This [loss] stings, but the bottom line is we're still champions. We're still No. 1 in South Jersey. We accomplished things that most high school teams can only dream about."
RV (30-2) was paced by junior forward Lauren Moses' 22 points. Junior guard Dominique Ward chipped in 11. And sophomore forward Kristin Smith came off the bench and scored 12.
The Red Devils trailed the entire game. Shabazz jumped out to an 11-point lead after one quarter and held a double-digit advantage for most of the game.
But Rancocas Valley made its runs.
Six times in the second half, the Red Devils pulled to within six points. But each time, Shabazz (33-1) answered with a run of its own.
"For a minute in the second half, it was looking kind of crazy," said Shabazz's Naquiyyah Teague, who finished with 19 points. "But we just got together and said, 'No this can't happen.' "
Added Corrado: "I'm proud of the way the girls fought and hung tough for the final three quarters. All season long, they've worked hard and never quit. . . . We have to give Shabazz credit - they made plays and capitalized on our mistakes."
After the game, the only tears shed were by the Red Devils' senior class over the ending of such a special four years.
"What we accomplished, we accomplished together," said senior forward Jordan Woods, who was part of RV's first state title in 2011. "You couldn't ask for a closer group of girls. . . . We're champions, and I'm proud of us all."
For players such as Moses, a taste of the state's biggest game is not something she'll soon forget. And it's something she was already thinking about experiencing again.
Playing in this game "makes you want to keep working hard," Moses said. "I thought we did work as hard as we could in this game. And that's all you can ask for."
Rancocas Valley 9 16 14 15 – 54
Shabazz 20 15 15 16 – 66
RV: Dominique Ward 11, Lauren Moses 22, Brianna Logan 4, Jordan Woods 3, Kristin Smith 12, Sabrina Jackson 2.
S: Naquiyyah Teague 19, Acestra Robinson 4, Zaire O'Neil 16, DeAshia Jones 20, Attliyah Butler 5, Doniyah Cliney 2.
Contact Chris Melchiorre at email@example.com.