Ballance – named in the 30-man provisional Trophy squad that will be halved by May 5 – scored 112 as Yorkshire recovered from 10-4 and 65-7 to reach 244 after being sent into bat.
The 23-year-old left-hander, who faced 227 balls and struck 14 fours and one six, was one of seven wickets for former Yorkshire pace bowler James Lee, who returned career-best figures of 7-45 against the county who released him in 2011.
Leeds-Bradford scored 40-3 in reply as Yorkshire were given a stern examination by the university side.
Ballance, who fell narrowly short of his previous best for the club of 121 not out against Gloucestershire at Bristol last May, was the only top-order player to score more than 20.
Yorkshire were rocked when the first four of Adam Lyth, Alex Lees, Joe Sayers and Andrew Gale managed only 10 runs between them as the students made the most of any early movement.
After the subsequent departures of Jonny Bairstow, Azeem Rafiq and Liam Plunkett, Yorkshire were in danger of being dismissed for under 100 and were indebted to a stand of 156 in 56 overs between Ballance and Ryan Sidebottom – the county’s 10th-highest for the eighth-wicket in first-class cricket.
Sidebottom scored 40 from 175 balls with five fours to help Ballance put a more respectable gloss on events.
“It was hard work out there and they bowled well on a tough pitch,” commented Ballance.
“They’ve got a good attack and you’ve got to give some credit to them.
“From a personal point of view I was delighted to get a few runs and it’s given me a bit of confidence. Hopefully I can take that into the first Championship game.”
Of his England call-up, Ballance remarked: “I’m delighted to be in the Champions Trophy squad, but they’ve still got to cut it down to 15.
“I’ve got to be realistic about things because there’s obviously some quality international players who’ve done well for England over the years. It’s going to be tough for me to make the final 15.
“I just have to score as many runs as I can and then you never know.”
The opening day began amid glorious sunshine, freshening winds and with a minute’s silence for former Leeds-Bradford player Tom Hardman, who was found dead at his home in Leeds last November.
Both teams lined up in front of the pavilion to pay tribute to Hardman, who played in the corresponding match last summer and who had been studying for a sports science degree at Leeds Met University.
There was no hint of the clatter of wickets to come when Lyth took nine runs off Lee’s first over, cutting him for four before off-driving him to the foot of the Rugby Stand. However, from the fifth ball of the second over, Lyth clipped Ivan Thomas to mid-wicket, where Jonathan Webb took a simple catch.
Lees, seeking to press his claims for a place in the County Championship side, fell for a golden duck when he edged Lee to Luis Reece at second slip as Yorkshire slipped to 9-2.
It became 9-3 when Gale was trapped lbw on the back foot by Lee as the captain recorded a fourth-ball duck.
Sayers, also looking to advance his claims for a Championship place, departed for one when he was turned around by a ball from Lee that flew off the edge to Nick Gubbins in the gully.
After Lee’s opening spell of 3-15 in five overs, Ballance and Bairstow batted sensibly to add 49 in 16 overs before Bairstow was caught behind off Reece for 20.
It triggered another mini-collapse as Lee had Rafiq caught at point and then pinned Plunkett lbw as he recorded a second-ball duck on his Yorkshire first-class debut.
Ballance and Sidebottom lifted Yorkshire into lunch on 102-7, Ballance going to his half-century shortly after the break from 95 balls with eight fours.
It was a patient performance by the England hopeful, although he was fortunate early on when he played a ball from Lee on to his stumps that did not disturb the bails before twice being dropped off the hard-working Thomas.
Reece put Ballance down at second slip when he had made 65 and then Hendry Thompson spilled him at first when he had scored 69.
As well as they bowled, Leeds-Bradford could look back on such moments with some regret as Yorkshire finished with more runs than they should have scored.
Sidebottom chopped on to William Vanderspar before Ballance was finally caught behind aiming an expansive off-drive. Lee wrapped up the innings two balls later when he bowled Steve Patterson to leave Jack Brooks unbeaten on 21.
Brooks took two wickets in his fourth over to reduce Leeds-Bradford to 22-2.
The pace bowler had Gubbins caught behind for 14 – a wicket he celebrated in enthusiastic style – before bowling Webb two balls later.
Sidebottom had Daniel Young caught behind 10 minutes before stumps as the batsman feathered outside off-stump.
The natural balance of power was therefore restored but Yorkshire will expect to bat better second time around.