"He's a motivator," Hargitt said. "He uses all these different lessons that really refer to our lives. People don't see that. We can have fun, but when it comes to business, when we come on this floor, we come to play and come to do our job."
Hardy says Carpenter has taught him the value of hard work.
"At first, I really didn't like to work hard, but he told me if I wanted to make it to where I wanted to get to, I've got to work hard every day at practice. I owe a lot to him for making me the player I am today. I'm grateful that I've got a coach like Coach Carpenter."
Hargitt and Hardy are also grateful they could return some semblance of appreciation for what Carpenter has done for them. On Thursday, they helped deliver Carpenter's 499th and 500th career basketball wins. The Lady Tigers (5-4) rallied for a 45-43 victory over Valley Head, setting the stage for the Tiger boys (4-2) to complete the feat with a 70-42 win.
"It's just a great accomplishment. He deserves it," Hardy said. "People really don't know what all he does for us. We're just grateful and thankful we were able to help him through the years get 500 wins. I've been part of the team since seventh grade, and it's special to me to get a lot of wins so he could get to 500."
Following the boys victory, Carpenter was honored with a specially-made crystal presented by Cedar Bluff School Principal Bobby Mintz, commemorating the occasion.
"It's more than wins and losses. It's about developing these kids," said Carpenter, whose career began back in 1984 at Ragland. He took the girls job at Cedar Bluff in 1993 and added the Tiger boys in 2003.
"I've been real blessed," Carpenter continued. "We've had a great administration here at Cedar Bluff. I've got wonderful assistant coaches, especially Coach (Johnny) Amison. I think we all work together well. We all cooperate well, and a lot of places don't have that.
"The hundreds of kids who have come through, I've had the opportunity to get better as a coach, and I feel like we continue to do things better and better every year. Sometimes it doesn't work out like we thought it would, but we're continuing to study the game and try to learn more about it."
Overcoming adversity was the theme of the night for both Tiger squads.
In the girls game, Cedar Bluff was minus one of its key contributors in senior forward Hannah Leach. Leach suffered a gash in here forehead at Collinsville on Tuesday and had to have six stitches sewn to help the cut heal. She's expected to miss a week. Junior guard Riley Johnson was also battling sickness and played sparingly, leaving Carpenter to go with a mostly younger lineup.
"It's a tribute to them for just hanging in there," Carpenter said. "That's what we talked about. We've just got to play through adversity and they did a good job with that tonight."
Valley Head (3-5) fought the Lady Tigers down to the wire. It wasn't until a couple of late defensive stops along with Hargitt's bucket and free throw with 6.4 seconds remaining that allowed Cedar Bluff to escape with the victory.
"In the beginning, we missed a lot of easy layups, and they just kept hammering at us," Carpenter said. "I think the turning point of the game was when their point guard (Kenzie Willingham) fouled out. That allowed us to put some more pressure on the other guards who weren't used to handling it. We got a couple of steals there and come up with one at the right time. They never quit. They just kept clawing away at it and come out on top."
Cedar Bluff's girls led 11-8 at the end of the first quarter, and the game was tied at 18 at halftime. Valley Head led 36-34 heading into the fourth quarter.
In the final quarter, Valley Head went in front by six at 40-34 off center Haven Downer's bucket with 6:24 remaining. Cedar Bluff had a chance to tie the game with 22.6 seconds left with Katie McGinnis at the line. She connected on her first shot, but missed the second to keep Valley Head in front 43-42.
After a Valley Head timeout with 18.8 seconds to go, Cedar Bluff turned up its defensive pressure and stole the ball, which found its way to Hargitt, who drove inside the paint and connected on a basket with 6.4 seconds left. She was also fouled on the play and calmly drained the ensuing free throw to put Cedar Bluff ahead to stay at 45-43.
Hargitt posted 20 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and blocked five shots. McGinnis added 11 points, seven boards and two steals. Marigrace Wilson contributed seven points and seven rebounds. Lexi Moten finished with four points and four steals.
Carpenter credited his younger players (Wilson, Delilah Price, Kiana Dobbins and Jasmine Adams) for stepping up.
"They came in and sparked us," he said.
Downer led Valley Head with 18 points. Hannah Blansit tallied 13 points and Willingham finished with eight points.
Cedar Bluff's boys also provided some come-from-behind drama on Carpenter's big night, although their game wasn't quite as close. Valley Head (3-3) jumped out to a 14-8 first-quarter lead, which it maintained until 1:44 left in the half.
Senior forward Levi Mintz snagged a rebound and put it back in to give Cedar Bluff its first lead of the quarter. He also connected on the ensuing free throw, giving the Tigers a 22-20 advantage.
Cedar Bluff closed out the first half on a 7-3 run and took a 29-23 lead into the locker room.
The Tigers blew the game open in the third quarter by going on a 28-11 run to take a 57-34 advantage heading into the fourth. They were able to make that run by attacking Valley Head with the press.
"(The press) is us. That's our staple, our trademark," Carpenter said. "I said 'We're going to have to pick it up this (second) half. I want you to get into the presses and do what we do and let's have some fun.' I asked them at the end of the third quarter 'Is this better than playing just half-court?' They said 'Oh yeah, this is more fun.' It's got to be fun for the kids. It can't be nose-to-the-grindstone all the time. We're going to work hard, but they're just kids and they need to have fun."
Hardy led the way with 18 points (15 in the second half), six rebounds and five steals. Devante Dixon added 16 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Terrence Scales drained three treys to finish with 14 points. He also had six steals.
Tristan Smith tossed in 11 points, including three treys of his own, to lead Valley Head. Marco Tognon added eight points off the bench. Ben Kirby had seven points. Gage Jones and Dallas Gregory both finished with six points.