Cedar Bluff's basketball coach calls it a feeling of awe walking from the locker room down the tunnel to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Arena court, a feeling he says is like no other in sports.
He's experienced that the past two seasons with the Cedar Bluff boys, but on Tuesday, his Lady Tigers got to experience that feeling for the first time.
Nerves were definitely a factor for the Lady Tigers in their Class 1A state semifinal game against sixth-ranked Brantley, but once Cedar Bluff settled down, it began playing its style of ball.
But the hole the Lady Tigers dug for themselves early on in the game was too great to overcome as their historic season came to an end with a 42-31 loss.
The Lady Bulldogs (24-6) advance to Friday's 1 p.m. championship game for the first time in their school's history against No. 8 Keith (31-3). The Lady Bears defeated fourth-ranked Lynn 40-27 in the other Class 1A girls state semifinal on Tuesday.
Cedar Bluff finishes its season at 17-16.
"It's a big stage, and I don't think we were as prepared for it as we needed to be," Carpenter said. "You never know until you get down here how that works out, but we fought hard, and I'm proud of them for making it here. You can't say enough about these young ladies and the effort they've given all year long."
Brantley began the game on a 15-0 run and led 18-2 at the end of the first quarter. The Lady Bulldogs kept the pressure on Cedar Bluff in the second quarter, taking a 30-12 halftime advantage.
"I think a lot of us didn't realize this was real. Our nerves got the best of us in the beginning," Lady Tiger senior forward Hannah Leach said. "After halftime, we realized this is it, win or go home, so we started fighting a lot harder."
Added junior guard Katie McGinnis: "If we quit, it would have made us look real bad, so we just kept going. I didn't want to disappoint anybody. We kind of already did, so we had to do what we could to catch back up."
The Lady Tigers got what they needed defensively in the second half. They held Brantley to just four points in the third quarter and eight in the fourth. However, Cedar Bluff continued to struggle offensively.
The Lady Tigers did manage to cut Brantley's lead to 10 on two separate occasions late in the fourth quarter, but could get no closer.
"We challenged them at halftime to respond and to keep fighting and see if we couldn't get ourselves back in the ball game. They did that," Carpenter said. "Unfortunately, we didn't get enough on the offensive end. I thought we played good enough on the defensive end to warrant the comeback, but we just didn't score enough baskets to make up the deficit we dug ourselves in the first half."
Brantley coach Andrew Kilcrease credited Cedar Bluff for turning up its defensive pressure in the second half, forcing the Lady Bulldogs into 20 second-half turnovers. Brantley had only seven turnovers in the first half.
"I think they picked up the defensive pressure full court," Kilcrease said. "At the start of the game, they didn't do any of that, and I think we started panicking a little bit. We had way too many turnovers. We've got fix that before Friday."
Carpenter said the Lady Bulldogs' turnovers came from the multitude of defenses the Lady Tigers have in their game plan.
"I don't recall off-hand how many we used tonight, but I promise you we used over eight different defenses," he said. "We're going to cause you confusion on offense. We did that a little bit more in the second half. It slowed their scoring down, but we just didn't seem to produce enough baskets when we needed to. I think maybe we should have pressed a little bit earlier."
McGinnis and Lady Tiger senior center Audrianna Hargitt led Cedar Bluff with nine points apiece. Hargitt also had five rebounds and five steals. Leach finished with seven points, six boards and two steals.
Sophomore forward Amahni Upshaw led Brantley with 11 points, nine rebounds and a pair of steals. Junior guard Raven Davis added nine points, three steals and two assists. Fellow junior guard Peyton Hill finished with seven points.